The neo-swing craze may have come and gone, but Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums continue to lay down a fat groove for dancers around the Bay Area, mining that rich seam of funk where jump blues merged with R&B back in the late 1940s and early ‘50s.
Led by the two-fisted pianist, Lucky, and featuring the full-throated vocalist, Carmen Getit, the six-piece band plays the Seaside Summer MusicFest on Sunday afternoon, as part of a dance-inducing triple bill, including Wally’s Swing World and Dizzy Burnett and the Grover Coe Quartet.
The festival, which is sponsored by the Monterey Blues Festival, the city of Seaside, and Magic 63, marks its fifth year with a move to Laguna Grande Park.
While Lucky acknowledges that work has fallen off since the swing scene’s high-water mark about five years ago, the band’s reputation as a smart and fiercely swinging outfit has enabled it to thrive in leaner times.
“We had our choice of gigs, and could work seven nights a gig,” Lucky says about the good old days. “It was a real luxury to turn down stuff we didn’t want to do. But when it cooled off, it was kind of a blessing, because we could pursue other musical interests. In fact, that became a necessity. You can’t go into a tiny club on Haight Street with the Rhumba Bums and feed yourself.”
Instead of depending on full-band dance gigs, they have created a series of smaller combos, including the Steve Lucky and Carmen Getit show, geared for intimate, late night blues, and the Hammond Cheese Combo, a greasy organ outfit. But it’s when the band’s at full power that the Bums show what they’re made of.
The band’s upcoming, still unnamed CD is close to being finished after four years in the works, and it reflects the band’s well-honed book, with its mixture of little-heard, vintage numbers and original tunes.
“Our philosophy is to go with the most obscure material that other bands haven’t discovered yet,” Lucky says. “People often assume that songs we play are originals because they haven’t heard them.”
Lucky and the Rhumba Bums have carved out a distinct niche with their stripped down instrumentation and firm backbeat. Their music has found its way onto independent AM station Magic 63.
According to veteran DJ Lee Durley, a long-time presence on Magic 63, the region’s demographics explain the station’s ability to buck the radio dial’s race to monotony.
“There are a lot of retired people here, and they remember this music,” Durley says. “But it’s also drawing the younger generation, and they’ll be the ones dancing at the Summer MusicFest.”
Summer MusicFest 2004 begins at noon in Laguna Grande Park, Canyon Del Rey Boulevard, Seaside. Free. 649-0969.