Wednesday, November 21, 2007
While attending college in Chicago, Bill Bouchard of The Next Blues Band had an encounter that would help shape the course of his life. One night back in 1972, Bouchard got to meet blues legend Howlin’ Wolf at the city’s Wise Fools Pub. Bouchard told Howlin’ Wolf that he played the blues too, and the blues icon put his hands on the young man’s heart. “Boy, if you are going to play the blues,” Howlin’ Wolf said, “you have to play from here.”
Ever since that day, Bouchard has internalized that advice. “He’s why I’m in it for the long haul,” Bouchard says of Howlin’ Wolf.
Outside on a warm fall day at Stone Creek Village Shopping Center by Highway 68, Bouchard, whose long graying hair is pulled back in a ponytail, relates his history and that of his group The Next Blues Band in his distinctively laconic and gravelly voice. After getting his fill of notorious bluesmen like Buddy Guy and Junior Wells in his hometown of Chicago, Bouchard struck out for California with just a backpack and his bass guitar. He took a train to Los Angeles and then hitchhiked up to Monterey to visit an old friend.
Following his arrival here, Bouchard quickly secured a job at the Highlands Inn as a maintenance engineer and started scouring the area’s open mic nights. Though he jammed with other musicians during the ‘80s, Bouchard says none of those groups made it out of the garage.
At the tail end of the ‘80s, Bouchard took a gig hosting a blues jam at the Monterey Brewing Company. With people he met at the jam, including future Red Beans & Rice member Terrence Kelly and John “Broadway” Tucker’s backing band player Bob Campbell, Bouchard put together the first of many incarnations of The Next Blues Band.
Since its formation, the group has performed at now-defunct venues like Whitey’s Place and contemporary establishments like Jose’s Lounge Underground. The Next Blues Band has had its fair share of local talent pass through its ranks with folks like Upside Downside’s John Mueller and Mercy’s Stew Pilkenton having played in the outfit.
Bouchard admits that he has been the only member who has been in The Next Blues Band for the group’s 16-year existence. The vocalist and bassist believes that one reason is because not all of his band’s past players have had a passion for just doing straight blues. “My goal is to stay true to the original Chicago blues style,” he says.
Also, Bouchard thinks the most important thing a great blues player can do amounts to more than just showcasing their virtuosity. “Blues is an emotional music,” he says. “It comes from your heart and your soul.”
This is one of the reasons that The Next Blues Band does not have band practices. “We put out more of an emotional music,” Bouchard says. “You can’t rehearse emotion.”
That emotion comes through on the group’s originals like “I Love the Way You Walk.” The song, which appears on a live recording of The Next Blues Band performing at Seaside’s Blues in the Park series, features Bouchard at times growling the lyrics over squalls of wah-wah guitar. Later on the CD, titled I’ve Got News, comes the autobiographical “South Side Blues,” where the listener can’t make out the words but can hear the emotion behind them.
Other songs that The Next Blues Band frequently perform at their live shows include Junior Wells’ “Messin’ with the Kid” and Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man.”
The band has lasted a decade and a half, and Bouchard doesn’t imagine throwing in the towel unless he stops breathing. “I’m in it for the long haul,” he says again. “I’ve committed myself to the genre of music.”
THE NEXT BLUES BAND play 9pm Friday, Nov. 23, at the Moss Landing Inn, the corner of Highway 1 and Moss Landing Rd., Moss Landing. No cover. 633-9853.