No Fear Of Commitment
Rene Solis life-long love affair with the blues.
Thursday, November 22, 2001
When the sun is shining, Rene Solis is a high-tech kind of guy; at night he''s all down home. By day, Solis is a buyer who works for the Vitesse Semiconductor Corporation in the South Bay Area. By night, he''s a bluesman who''s been working the circuit for about 20 years. It''s almost like being married to two women at the same time, he says.
In Solis'' case, it''s no mystery which he loves best.
"I''ve been juggling my career for 20 years now," Solis says. "When you''re a musician you have to have the insurance; it has to come from somewhere." But if his day job is his insurance, his night life is his passion.
Solis'' road to a complicated relationship with his career began in the East Bay, where he grew up in the Richmond area. Although he says it was a tough place to grow up, he also says that it was a fertile musical environment where he was constantly exposed to the sounds of Motown, R&B and blues almost on a daily basis. Solis'' musical fate was sealed when he saw a concert with Freddy and Albert King at the Filmore. "It just killed me," he recalls.
But that didn''t stop him from playing the field for a while before settling down with his true love. And, as with other forms of relationships, the reasons for making his ultimate choice are complicated.
"I did a bunch of gigs on drums and then I switched to guitar--only because it was an easier instrument to carry," chuckles Solis. "Besides John Lennon had all the chicks, and I said that''s what I want to do.
"I played some rock, for a while, but I wasn''t ever very good at it. I just started getting into the Kings--Freddy, Albert, BB. Then I got introduced to electric blues through the British invasion, John Mayall and all of them. Hearing the electric blues instead of the Delta, porch blues, made a big impact on me. It wasn''t really a conscious decision; it just kind of evolved naturally."
Solis formed his first band, East West, after moving to the South Bay in 1972. He says the band hung together for about four years, playing a lot of Chicago blues and stuff that was inspired by the Butterfield Blues band. But the nightlife wasn''t mixing too well with the responsibilities of being a young father, so he hung up his guitar for a while until his kids started "becoming more independent units. In fact, they didn''t want their dad around all the time."
That was about the time Solis founded his second, most successful (to date) band, NiteCry. NiteCry stuck together for about 13 years, not only developing a large Bay Area following but also touring festivals and clubs throughout the country.
Solis says NiteCry was a sort of coming-of-age period for him as a musician. It was during NiteCry''s tenure that he says he finally started to get serious about writing his own music. And it didn''t hurt that he got some help along the way.
In addition to his duties with NiteCry, Solis also got a gig doing some backup work for bluesman Larry "Arkansas" Davis, the guitarist best known for writing "Texas Flood," which Stevie Ray Vaughn turned into a hit. Working with Davis, Solis got a chance to meet with some of his musical heroes, including BB and Albert King.
It also didn''t hurt that NiteCry had some serious talent in the lineup. During about four years in the band''s tenure, Tommy Castro--who now has a significant solo career of his own--was the band''s vocalist and front man. "That''s when we really got started," says Solis. "But we didn''t really record anything outside a couple demo tapes. After Tommy left, it was hard to replace him--he''s very charismatic and a great singer."
Nonetheless, Solis and NiteCry persevered and recorded two well-received CDs, Too Cool to be Blue (produced by Joe Louis Walker) and Run for Cover.
But, as we''ve heard in many songs, life on the road isn''t an easy life. A couple years ago, Solis had had enough, and NiteCry was disbanded.
"I took about a year off again after that," says Solis. "I just needed to shake it out, rejuvenate myself. I spent a lot of time in New Orleans, and I went to Memphis and Nashville and a couple of other places--not in any soul-searching sort of way, but it was good for me. I did a lot of songwriting, so when it came time to restart the band, there was plenty of material to work with."
There was enough material in fact, so that when Solis hand-picked the members of his current band, The Persuaders, they had enough to take into the studio to make a recording. It sounds like a small thing, but it''s actually a big advantage when a young band can put together a credible, professional sample of their music and ship it around to promoters and booking agents.
So when Solis and The Persuaders released E Ticket Ride in August, they were on a roll almost before they got their first gig.
E Ticket Ride is a funky blend of West Coast and Chicago blues that demonstrates the band''s capacity for both soulful, slow hip grinders and up-tempo booty-shakin'' numbers. Although you can pick out lots of influences, there is a freshness to the sound that comes from the original material. Most of the tracks were written by Solis, with a couple collaborations with co-producer Mark Gilbert, and one by bandmate Erik Berg. Original material is something about which Solis is pretty serious.
"How many times can you do ''Hoochie Coochie Man''?" Solis asks, rhetorically. "There''s a point at which you have to stop playing ''Stormy Monday.'' If someone gave me a $20 bill with ''Mustang Sally'' on it, I''d probably give the $20 back. You have to keep the audience in mind but you have to do what you like.
"I think if you believe in your music, people will buy into it. But if you''re just a guy up there going through the motions, hammering it out, people will know that."
Ultimately, in talking with Solis, a person kind of gets the feeling that no matter what his individual songs may be about, they all add up to one long love song to the life he loves the best: the night life, the blues life.
Rene Solis and The Persuaders play Friday at 9pm. Sly McFly''s, 700A Cannery Row./ 649-8050.