Brian Owens of Metronome Magazine interviewed the band for a cover story in the February 2019 issue. This ranging interview covers topics including band history, musical influences, songwriting method, details about our CD "The Lower Level", and more.
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L&M RHYTHM KINGS
By Brian M. Owens
Gritty, hot and tight, Boston’s L&M Rhythm Kings deliver what they promise with their music. This swinging veteran blues quartet knows how to keep audiences engaged and dance floors shakin’. We caught up with the band and they shared their storied blues history with us...
METRONOME: How long has the L&M Rhythm Kings been together?
Mark Longo: We started playing together in 2008 as a pick up thing. We had played together in various combinations in different bands over the years and all knew each other as friends, so when some gigs came up we just pulled it together as a pick-up band. We knew a lot of the same material from previous projects, so it was pretty easy. We hadn’t played much together in this particular combination but it gelled right away and we were having so much fun with it we decided to formalize it as a regular band.
METRONOME: How did you come up with the name for the band?
Mark: The original pick-up thing was thrown together by Squid, our bassist, and he booked it as the Route 495 Allstars. We all lived in various towns along route 495 at that time and the gigs Squid had were near 495, so the name was a natural. Once we decided to formalize it as a regular band we wanted a name that sounded more like a band unit. Each guy in the band back then had “L” or “M” initials so we came up with L&M. Someone in the band suggested the Rhythm Kings name, not sure who, but it fit because we’ve always been about the groove. We put the names together as L&M Rhythm Kings.
METRONOME: Who is in the group and what are their roles?
Mark: Larry plays guitar and sings lead. I play organ and piano and also sing lead. We worked a lot together in a band called the Swanky Moes thru the 1990s and developed a sound using both voices in that band. Our voices blend well in harmony as they have a different, yet similar timbre. Having two distinct lead singers gives the band’s repertoire variety and diversity of sound. Vocal harmony is not a common element in traditional blues and L&M Rhythm Kings takes advantage of our multi-vocal capability to create a unique take on blues.
Mike “Squid” Rush plays bass and has deep experience in blues, jazz, funk, rock & roll and world music. He brings a very solid foundation to the sound. The breadth of his playing style brings an interesting element of spice to the band that helps establish our original sound.
Our original drummer was Michael Farias. He brought a very solid and chunky back beat to the band, but he left the band some years ago in pursuit of big opportunities in his daytime career. The rest of the band was devastated. We had been playing with Michael for many years in various bands and feared we’d never replace him. Enter our current drummer and old friend, Glenn Rogers. Rather than try to replace what Michael did, he brought his own fresh style into the band. Glenn is a very experienced blues and groove drummer with a deep resume who took us to new places with his tight grooves and pulse. We quickly gelled with Glenn groove wise, which brought us to some new musical places.
METRONOME: Larry, who are some of your musical influences?
Larry Lusignan: As a guitar player, I’m drawn to the players that convey the sound I’m mostly looking to capture. People who don’t have a heavy reliance on pedals or processing. Players that capture the vintage vibe of the genre, usually relying on their touch, feel, and the sound of a great tube amp. Ronnie Earl is someone who in my opinion leads the pack in this area. Along the same lines for me is T Bone Walker, Jimmy Vaughn, Duke Robillard, Gatemouth Brown, and Robert Cray. For recordings, I love the sound of the old Sam Cooke records, Junior Wells Southside Blues Jam, anything with Duane Allman on it, and you can't beat Live at the Regal.
METRONOME: What other bands have you played with?
Larry: It seems like I go decade to decade with bands. In the 1980’s I was with Dave Lanman and the Locomotives, the 1990’s was the Swanky Moes, after the 2000’s, it was Larry and the Bluescasters. In between I’ve filled in and sided for a bunch of people, which I really enjoy.
METRONOME: Mark, who are some of your musical influences?
Mark: Vocally I was influenced early on by Ray Charles, Louis Jordan, BB King, Bonnie Raitt, Gregg Allman, Steve Winwood, Chrissie Hynde, and others. I don’t sound much like those people as their tone is pretty different from mine, but stylistically they all made a big impression on me from the start.
I would say my organ playing is most influenced by Steve Winwood, Gregg Rollie, Gregg Allman, and Jimmy Smith. Billy Preston was an influence too. It’s not commonly acknowledged, but Billy was one of the finest organ players of that generation. His backing work is just stupendous.
A very formative recording for me was Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, which I heard long before I even played organ. Back in those days I was a young bass player and knew almost nothing about organ. John Paul Jones’ Hammond sound on that song blew me away and showed me early on what an incredible element in blues the Hammond can be. I’ve carried that influence all these years.
My influences on piano are mostly jazz. Oscar Peterson is number one for me by far, but I also love Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Hiromi and so many more. I’m also into Ben Paterson these days, a pretty new guy on the scene.
METRONOME: What other bands have you played with?
Mark: I really met Larry playing with Dave Lanman & the Locomotives back in the 1980s. After that he and I did a million gigs with The Swanky Moes thru the 1990s which is where we both developed our individual vocal styles and also learned how to sing together. Then I played in the Boston Horns which was a jazz/funk thing, then in a Meters cover band called Trick Bag.
METRONOME: Mike, who are some of your musical influences?
Mike Rush: I started out listening to English bass players, particularly John Entwistle of The Who and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. I then gravitated towards other styles of music such as blues (Duck Dunn and Johnny B. Gayden from Albert Collins band), funk (Larry Graham, Verdine White), soul (Willie Weeks, Jerry Jemmot), jazz (Stanley Clarke, Jaco, Marcus Miller), Graham Maby from Joe Jackson’s band, and Bernard Edwards from Chic.
METRONOME: What other bands have you played with?
Mike: I played with The Natives (Boston original rock band with Merrie Amsterburg,Russ Lawton, and Peter Linton), Rhythmo Loco (duo project with Russ Lawton from Soule Monde and the Trey Anastasio Band), Pass The Peas, and The Boston Horns (jazz/funk).
METRONOME: Glenn, who are some of your musical influences?
Glenn Rogers: My dad was a big influence on me. He was a jazz drummer. Six years in drum corps gave me good timing and a solid foundation playing with other musicians. John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, Alan White of Yes, Barriemore Barlow of Jethro Tull - these rock drummers were unbelievable. I also had a lot of jazz influences like Joe Morello, Joe Jones and Buddy Rich who my dad brought me to see when I was young.
METRONOME: What other bands have you played with?
Glenn: I started playing the blues with Joey Velluci’s Midnight Rendezvous. I opened for Luther “Guitar” Jr. Johnson one night then toured with him for a year Recording the I Wanna Groove with You album. Then with Tabasco Fiasco, a great 6 piece with horns. While living in Vermont I played with Murphy’s Blues. Along with the L&M Rhythm Kings I currently play with Larry and the Bluescasters which is part of this band and the Chicago style blues band, BlueSwitch.
METRONOME: Is your new album, The Lower Level the band’s debut release?
Mark: Yes, this is our first. The band was working for several years before we decided to make a CD of our own music. As the band has gone on, we’ve written more and gotten further down the road with our original music direction. Making this record seemed like an obvious choice.
METRONOME: Did you all write for the album or did you have songs in the can?
Mark: All of the songs were written by members of the band, both collaboratively and individually. A few of the songs were brought back from earlier projects. For example, “Meadow Lounge” was a Swanky Moes song by Larry and I from the 1990’s. A friend who we call, “The Mayor,” an old Swanky Moes follower, made a request for the song at a Rhythm Kings gig, so we figured why not? We made it through the song based on fading memory, and decided to revive it with a new spin for the record. We also reimagined a couple of cuts off of the Larry and the Bluescasters record “The Same Fifty” (from 2003) as well. The rest of the material was written for the new record.
METRONOME: How did the songwriting process work for you all and how did you bring it to the band?
Mark: The songs that were written by individuals in the band were brought to the band as complete songs, but without the specific rhythms, dynamics, and final arrangements scripted. Whoever wrote the tune would play it solo to the band, teach them the changes, and perhaps suggest a general approach or style. Then the band just plays the tune over and over in rehearsal with each member working out their parts and fitting them together with the other players. The players suggest changes or arrangement turns and the band continues to work the song until it emerges as a band entity. Changes and adjustments continue until the tune gels as a complete band tune. Using this method each tune, even if it’s stylistically different from other band tunes, takes on a flavor that’s part of the band identity.
Songs that are written collaboratively by two members are brought in and honed in a similar way, though the collaborative tunes tend to be a bit more finished products when they are brought in. In that case the non-colborating members still work out their parts as usual, but it’s a shorter process since the tunes are more finished to begin with.
As for specific songs, the title track “The Lower Level” was a collaboration, written off of the chord pattern in the Chorus. We played that over and over and then started coming up with the call and response vocal which was inspired by what we were playing.
“Without You” started with lyrics that came to Larry on a long bike ride. He used to take his Dad out every weekend from the nursing home. After his father passed away, he was out riding one Sunday, and started thinking “There’s a little more time on Sunday Without You” which is the first line of the song. We built the rest of the song from there, in a minor key to reflect the sadness of the loss.
“Smoke” was written as a meditation about the opioid epidemic and the pain faced by those caught in it. When writing it, I had been listening to a lot of Peter Green music from the old John Mayall album “Hard Road”, and early Fleetwood Mac blues records like “Then Play On”, so that in part inspired the feel of that tune. My idea was to use some of the raw energy and feel of those old records to express a bit of the desperation and despair of addiction.
METRONOME: Why did you call the album, The Lower Level?
Larry: We had recorded the basic tracks of all the tunes and done many of the overdubs and still had no name for the album. So we looked at the names of the songs we’d recorded for the album and tried to imagine album cover ideas involving those song names. The song title “The Lower Level” is about living in the lower reaches of society and conjured some strong visuals. Mark, who did the graphic design of the CD package, thought of expressing “The Lower Level” by showing the basement button in an elevator. It so happened that the studio where we were recording the record was located in the basement of a building, so Mark photographed the control panel of the studio elevator with the basement button lit up and the appeal was instant. With some photo processing he gave the panel a grubby look and we had a themed title.
METRONOME: Where did you record?
Mark: The record was made at PM Recording Studio in Wakefield, Rhode Island.
METRONOME: How long did it take to record the record from start to finish?
Mark: We started recording in mid-February and finished it in mid-August, a period of 6 months. Chris Vachon, who is pretty busy playing in Roomful Of Blues and with other recording projects, was producing and engineering the album with us. Coordinating our availability with his, the studio hours got spread out a bit. Chris’s studio is a few hours away from where we live, so logistics stretched the project out some too. I think in all we spent about 75 hours in the studio.
METRONOME: Did you have any guest musicians on the CD?
Mark: We were joined on the record by Ronnie Earl, a mentor and close friend of ours. Ronnie played on two tracks in his usual soul-drenched emotional style. He plays the guitar solos and fills on “Big Wheeled Bonneville”, and takes a cool break on “Cookin’ In Groveland.” We’re so grateful for his contribution of music and spirit.
In getting to know Chris Vachon while creating this album, it seemed natural to ask him to play on it. He’s a remarkable player and graciously agreed to join in, playing a lengthy traded solo with Larry on “Inside Out”.
John Loud, a gifted percussionist and trap drummer, brought a lot of feel to Smoke, Tara Says So, and Hot Coals. Those tunes were complete when we brought John in, but we felt he could bring more to them to make them sizzle and pop. We were right. Not sure how he does it, but he did.
METRONOME: Larry, what guitars did you use for the recording?
Larry: I used my 1963 Guild CE-100 hollowbody on a lot of the tracks. It has a Bigsby, and through the whole record I played more than I usually do without a pick. That guitar is on many of the rhythm tracks and a few of the solo’s. I also used 2 Strats, one a Custom Shop and the other an Eric Johnson model. I have a 1972 Les Paul on a few tracks and a reissue Telecaster as well. Everything was played through Chris’s vintage Fender Super Reverb and Deluxe Reverb amps recorded simultaneously on separate tracks.
METRONOME: Mark, what did you use for keyboards?
Mark: The organ was a Nord Electro 4D, 61 keys with drawbars played through a 1972 Leslie model 145. That’s one of the wooden 40 watt tube Leslies with the 6550s. I had the amplifier section rebuilt some years back to original specs, everything else is original except the top driver, which is a phenolic driver that sounds quite like the original Jensen V-21 but louder and can handle more juice without blowing.
The piano was a Yamaha CP-33 which has a very nice action and sounds pretty good for a digital piece. I love acoustic pianos and have never much gotten used to digitals, though there are some very nice sample packages around that I’ve recorded with, especially Ivory.
For this recording we took the CP-33 direct in mono, which was not my first choice, but due to studio logistics, it was just the easiest thing to do. I’d rather spend the time/money focusing on the band performance than on fiddling with the piano sound and that worked out on this project.
METRONOME: Mike, what kind of bass did you play for the album?
Mike: I played a ‘66 Jazz Bass with flatwound (dead) strings, an ‘83 Jazz Bass with roundwound (bright strings), and a 2015 Fender Precision bass.
METRONOME: Glenn, what did you play for drums?
Glenn: I’ve been playing my Premier set since 1989. Birch shells and a chrome snare. Zildjian cymbals.
METRONOME: Are you getting any airplay for the album?
Mark: Yes, we’re pleased to have had Holly Harris play us on “Spinning the Blues” on WUMB. John Guregian has us on “Blues Deluxe” at WUML where we also did a live-in-the-studio set. Adam Signore plays us regularly on his “Squeaky Chair Blues” show on internet based Mark Skin Radio and Darren Pinto has has included us in his weekly “Friday Night Blues Box” on WCUW 91.3. We’re also working it to some other stations and outlets.
METRONOME: How often does the band play live?
Mark: On average we’re playing two or three times a month and looking to ramp that up, pushing into more listening rooms. We’re looking for the new CD and a promotional push to help out there.
METRONOME: Do you have any big shows coming up in February/March?
Mark: We’ll be doing the “Blue Monday” event at Gardner Ale House, Gardner MA on March 4th. There are a few other things we’re working on.
METRONOME: Have you shot any videos for any of the songs on the recording?
Mark: Larry and Squid recently did a documentary video with performance and a ranging interview by documentary filmmaker Mark Steele. They speak about songwriting process, band dynamics, and a lot more. It’s pretty interesting. There are also videos of the live performances of the material on various internet sites, mostly shot by Joe Marino of MoeJoe Vision. The video is linked thru our website.
METRONOME: Where can people find out more about you on the internet?
Mark: Our website LandMRhythmKings.com is the best place. There are the videos links mentioned above, audio from live shows, upcoming gig listings, a blog about interesting experiences and anecdotes, etc.