Whether by classified ads or word of mouth, bands are formed in various ways. However, sometimes fate has its own plans in the music world. Sometimes, musicians naturally unite, and the result is a band that cannot deny its aural coagulation. Deluxe Trio’s formation could be considered one of those magical situations.
Consisting of local music scene notables Steve “Duck” Varnes (guitar), Phil Proctor (mandolin) and Stan Foster (bass), Deluxe Trio’s origins began at Mellow Mushroom. Also known for his work with The Lizards, Varnes was performing weekly at the pizzeria and was looking for more musicians to join him. At the time, Varnes was performing with Donnie Skidmore, who suggested they contact Foster, who is known for his work with Southeast bluegrass icons Rollin’ in the Hay.
“He (Skidmore) said, ‘We can get Stan. He’s available, and he’ll play for peanuts,’” Varnes recalled. “We didn’t get enough to share. So, Stan came out, and we hit it off in every way.”
Eventually, Skidmore experienced health problems and had to depart from the trio. Proctor, a regular performer at venues across the Azalea City and beyond, was the natural replacement. Varnes was already acquainted with Proctor through weekly jam sessions held at West Mobile Music, but Foster journeyed to Pascagoula to check out Proctor’s expert skills on the strings. When Proctor recognized Foster, he insisted that he join him on stage to perform.
“From that second on, I said, ‘I’ve been over on Wednesdays playing with Steve Varnes a lot,’” Foster explained. “Rollin’ in the Hay is only playing Thursday, Friday and Saturday now. I felt like I was semi-retired. I needed something to do during the week. From the time the three of us played, we were like, ‘This is it!’”
“It’s total artistic fulfillment,” Proctor added. “It’s been great. It’s nice, because I get to do whatever I want to and play with these guys.”
In a time when Americana has been molded and shaped by modern influences, Deluxe Trio has decided to focus on the purity of the genre with minimal acoustic instrumentation and old school sensibilities. However, they make a point to put what Foster calls “a new slant” on both their originals and the obscure covers that they perform. Additionally, the Deluxe Trio has never had an official rehearsal. Their performances are based totally on spontaneity and their mental repertoire of classic songs rooted in the early 20th century.
“We have never rehearsed this band,” Varnes said. “We just bring it in and see if it gets legs. We even did that on ‘Radio Avalon.’ We went into the studio and did things that we do all the time. At the end of the night, we had time for one more. I had just shown Phil the progression for a Tom Waits song ‘In the Neighborhood.’ He said right there on the radio, ‘Let’s do that one.’ So, we did.”
Now, Deluxe Trio is taking their group to the next level with the Dec. 1 release of their debut album “Nobody Don’t Know,” which is taken from a French colloquialism found in the original track “The River.” Wet Willie’s Rick Hirsch volunteered to be their guide for the album and brought the group into his H2O Studio.
While Varnes, Foster and Proctor provide the music focus of the album, they also brought in Donna Hall (Wet Willie) for backing vocals on the tracks “Dark Holler” and “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times.” John Anthony (Wet Willie) played accordion on “No More Excuses,” and Sean Worrell lent his accordion skills on “The River.” With a résumé boasting Dolly Parton, Eric Burdon and Waylon Jennings, keyboardist Red Young journeyed from Austin to add his touch to the track “Mockingbird Waltz.”
Many bands have one goal when they enter the studio. They wish to capture the magical vibes that only a live performance can produce, and on their first album, the Deluxe Trio more than accomplished it. The clarity of each track synthesizes the intimate environment of Callaghan’s Irish Social Club on a Wednesday evening. The band enhances the live aspect of the listening experience by including many of the obscure covers included in their set, such as Blind Alfred Reed’s 1920s classic “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times.”
Deluxe Trio takes a track that is characterized by its upbeat nature and turns it into a slow, emotional ballad laced with beautiful harmonies. From the beginning, the live vibe of the album was a priority, and the recording session went quick with the first night resulting in eight tracks recorded.
“Rick asked us things like if we wanted him to isolate us,” Varnes said. “We said that we really didn’t want it. We play as a band, and we want the recording as a band. So, he had us in the room. We were in a triangular shape where we can see each other, and we just played it all. There are no punch-ins. If you hear a little gaffing, we left them in there, because those are things that you’ll hear at a show.”
“I think that’s what we all wanted to do or give it a shot that way,” Proctor added. “We played live and worked out the vocal parts and instrumentation, so we could go in there and not be like an unrehearsed band. Since we were rehearsed, it only seemed natural to go in there and hash it out like that, so there can be some spontaneity.”
“Nobody Don’t Know” also includes some excellent original work from Deluxe Trio. Varnes included his trademark song “The King of Marvin Gardens,” a track mingling blues and bluegrass elements with a whole lot of soul. The groove is enhanced by verse after verse of memorable lyrics.
Proctor also includes his rollicking bluegrass song “Fire Into the Frying Pan,” which features the songwriter on lead vocals with Foster and Varnes backing him up. The foot-stomper was inspired by an incident between Proctor and his then fiancée (now wife).
“We’ve been married over 20 years, so the incident didn’t ruin things, but it’s a comical take on a dinner date gone wrong,” Proctor said.
As far as the future of Deluxe Trio, a music video for one of their tracks is in the works and will be created by Academy Award winning special effects artist Anthony LaMolinara. The band also plans to play local festivals and they have hopes of making the trip to Austin for a showcase. In the meantime, locals will continue to enjoy Deluxe Trio at their weekly performance at Callaghan’s.
Date: Every Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Venue: Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, 219 Charleston St., www.callaghansirishocialclub.com
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