Seth Yacovone Has Got the Blues Real Good

Aimée Petrin talks to the Seth Yacovone Blues Band about the blues, their new album, life on the road and why they do what they do. And she doesn't tell you how old he is until the last paragraph.

They may be singing the blues, but this band is having a ball while doing so.

Regardless of which member of the Seth Yacovone Blues Band you ask, the reason this foursome plays and works so hard is an unwavering fondness for fun. And good music.

It's all fun and games...until someone brings up Yacovone's age. That subject is getting old.

"It's really a drag," opines harp man Luke Boggess when the topic inevitably arises. In an attempt to clear the air early on, both Boggess and Yacovone offer what they must wish would be the definitive answer that finally puts this issue to bed.

With frustration fueling his response, Yacovone, who otherwise has a smile and joke ready at every turn, launches into "Just as you're not great as soon as you hit 36, you don't suck until you're 24." With resignation, he closes the subject, adding "It just matters that the music is good!"

(Lest we forget that Robert Johnson, the king of the Delta Blues, was dead and buried by the ripe old age of 28?)

On the one hand, the band admits the age thing has helped garner publicity. With band profiles popping up in everything from regional newspapers (both locally and wherever the band tours) to one of the state's more prestigious publications - Vermont Magazine - it's difficult to discount the role it plays in the sensation. In fact you can hardly get past the headline before the fascination with Yacovone's age rears its ugly head.

The focus on Yacovone's age has left some without a true appreciation for the talent behind the hoopla, especially in these parts. Or at the very least an obstacle, which must be overcome to get over the age and to the music.

If anyone has issues with this affable bunch's notoriety, they should take it up with ring leader Lee Diamond - the driving force behind the Seth Yacovone Blues Band's fame. And this firecracker can handle it. As proprietor of the area's only commercial band rehearsal space - The Kennel - Diamond is making music a full-time career. Yet, it seems a slap in the face that having a hard working manager up front should be a detriment.

It took one show at Nectar's and Diamond was hooked. A few phone calls later and Yacovone bashfully asked Diamond to be the band's manager. She's been wheeling and dealing on the band's behalf ever since.

With barely a year and a half behind the current line-up, Yacovone, who has one of those minds you don't want to come up against in any game of Trivial Pursuit, effortlessly ticks off that fateful week in July: the 13th, a gig at the Pub & Brewery with only a handful of rehearsals behind them; the 16th, opening for fellow rising teen sensation Derek Trucks; the 19th and 20th, the first weekend show at Nectar's; the 26th at Stratton's Red Fox Inn, the 27th, warming the stage for the Ian Moore Band; the 28th, celebrating the earth at the Middletown Springs Solar Fest,; the 29th, cutting a demo at Joe Egan's studio in Hinesburg; and rounding it all up on the 30th with a show supporting Koko Taylor.

Since then, the band has groomed an impressive resume. Shows at the Paradise Theatre in Boston, Allston's Harper's Ferry, the Metro in Saratoga Springs, the famed Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton and Burlington's own Discover Jazz Festival are just a few of the gigs that have kept the band busy.

With comparisons to the greats, the Seth Yacovone Blues Band has enjoyed references to such distinguished predecessors as Albert Collins, Muddy Waters, B.B. King and the Allman Brothers.

Drummer Adam "The Hand" Kay, who, despite his percussive role in the band, keeps a relatively low and quiet profile, likens the band's sound to "tradition with a twist."

The twist comes from such varied influences from those aforementioned greats to Frank Zappa and George Clinton. The result is a sound Yacovone refers to as "soul music."

Whether it is "Zappa singing about saving boogers or Robert Johnson screaming in 1936" it all makes its way into the songwriting of Yacovone, who has been writing and playing since he was nine, when he got that now legendary guitar for Christmas. Yacovone, the foursome's primary composer, gives up a few credits on the band's all-originals debut CD, Bobfred's Bathtub Minstrel, to Boggess.

So, why did a white boy hailing from the foothills of the Green Mountains beg his parents for a guitar so that he could start playing the blues?

"It's the music that grabbed out and bit me," explains Yacovone of his passion. Specifically, it was the swan song of the Band and its film The Last Waltz, which included an awe inspiring performance by Muddy Waters, that sealed Yacovone's fate. "With so much power and emotion behind it you can't help but be like, "Holy shit!"

"It so naturally fit my brain," the Wolcott native adds.

"Blues was something I was always interested in - it's what got me started on bass," says Tom Coggio of the rhythm section. "Seeing the Dave Brubeck Quartet will do that to an aspiring musician, even when a music teacher tells you "your hands will never be big enough."

"It hits you in the gut," Boggess says.

Enjoying a commercial renaissance of sorts, the blues can be found in a bevy of mainstream advertisements. Even with this renewed appreciation for the genre, Yacovone is happy to see that the blues has not gone the same way as country, coming up watered down and vacuous. "There isn't a Garth Brooks of the blues who sells 40 million albums, " he adds.

"My biggest hatred of modern music is the lack of tradition," asserts the staunchly independent spirit who chose home schooling over more orthodox academia (and who was writing for Good Citizen from his home when he was only fifteen.) "They all sound like last year's big hit," continues Yacovone with obvious disdain.

Yacovone feels that, with few exceptions, since the early 70s groups have not kept an ear to the roots of music when plowing new musical ground. The disclaimer lies in those contemporary bands he favors like the Black Crowes, Lenny Kravitz and Phish. Phish invited the Seth Yacovone Blues Band to appear at last summer's Clifford Ball in Plattsburgh. "They listen to old music and you can hear it," he observes.

This is not to say that Yacovone and the band do not have their own favorites on the local scene. Although most undirected questions hang in the air as each band member patiently, or one could say shyly, waits for another to speak up, this inquiry brings about a chorus of voices. Sandra Wright, the Disciples, Belizbeha and Big Joe Burrell all make the big list before each member adds a few reflecting more individualistic tastes.

Surprisingly, with so many bands seeking super-stardom, the Seth Yacovone Blues Band looks to a simpler future. One in which they can pay the bills and play the music without worrying about any of that other "bullshit," with each CD funding the next.

"Success is doing something we haven't done before," asserts Yacovone, whether that be a new transition, an improvised, yet seamless jam or other risky maneuvers on stage. "I like weirdness, mistakes and inconsistencies because it's natural."

As natural as an 18-year-old from the hills of Vermont leading a blues band in search of good times and good music. ~GC~

Aimée Petrin is a free-lance personality with a background in music, theater and film.