After nearly 30 years apart, The Old No. 7 Band reunited about a year ago, and will take the stage at Rocky Point Pub tomorrow night for three sets beginning at 9 p.m., playing until the bar closes. There is no entry fee.
“We just want to get out there and have everybody enjoy the music,” says bassist Russ Rea, who founded the group in 1977 with Peter Sousa, one of the bands two guitarists.
They started as a three-piece bluegrass band, then evolved to a rock quartet, and then added a fifth member before splitting up in 1984. Rea also plays keyboards on some songs.
Rea, Sousa and the other original members got together for a reunion show in February 2011 at the Knights of Columbus. More than 250 people attended.
But the original singer and drummer decided to go their own ways, as they wanted to pursue other interests. That’s when Rea and Souza recruited guitarist Paul Gizelt and drummer Jack Matthews.
In the last year, they’ve played about a dozen shows, and have been practicing and honing a new style, classifying themselves as an Americana act. Americana is the culmination of several genres, such as folk, country, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll and other styles, including bluegrass.
They mostly perform covers, with a few originals sprinkled in.
“We kept the same name, but we’re doing different material than we did 30 years ago,” Rea said, noting that they’ve played about a dozen shows in the last year.
They cover well-known artists such as The Beatles, Hootie and the Blowfish, Van Morrison, The Grateful Dead, Gordon Lightfoot, and more.
“It’s eclectic, which is why I like it,” said Gizelt. “If you’re in a blues band or a country band, you’re playing the same songs. It keeps it interesting. And it’s a relaxed attitude. I spent my 20s trying to get famous, my 30s trying to get good, and my 40s trying to get work, and now I’m having fun.”
Matthews agrees. Also, he enjoys the fact that they get to add their own twists to certain songs.
“I come from a heavy R&B and folk background, and I like playing in this band for the simple reason that we can pick and choose and do anything that we want,” he said. “We don’t have to stick to one format. It allows us diversity, and the ability to be ourselves.”
Sousa feels the same, noting that they don’t pressure one another. They all leave their egos at the door.
“If somebody suggests a song and everyone else doesn’t like it, it doesn’t matter – no one’s feelings get hurt,” said Sousa. “There are 5 million songs out there – we’ll find one that we all like. That’s not always the case with other bands.”
Rea said they get along very well and are like brothers. They all think similarly and compliment each other.
“I like the sound that we have, and I like the versatility of the members,” he said. “Peter’s a great acoustic guitar player and finger picker, and Paul has a more bluesy or jazz style, so it fits. Everything clicks.”
Gizelt added, “If we were too similar, it wouldn’t work.”
As noted, they are pleased with this incarnation of the band. In the past, they played with acts like Herman’s Hermits, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, and The Blushing Brides. They frequently played at the old Lupo’s in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Before joining The Old No. 7 Band, Matthews played in numerous bands, including Stovall Brown. Through that band, he met Rea and Sousa, and played their last gig in 1984. He also previously worked the sound system for them.
In terms of his background, Matthews began playing guitar as a youngster but quickly switched to drums.
“My father was a drummer and he said, ‘Don’t you want to play all these drums?’” said Matthews, who cited Buddy Rich, Jack McDuff, Richard “Groove” Holmes, and others as some of his biggest musical influences. “I was 9 years old. I played rock and roll up until I was 14, and started playing rhythm and blues. My favorite at that time was B.B King.”
Rea started playing piano when he was 4. At 10, he switched to drums before taking up guitar and bass when he was 13.
Through the years, he also learned how to play the clarinet, saxophone and harmonica.
Gizelt started playing the violin at age 7. He didn’t like it, so he got an acoustic guitar.
“Then, I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and said, ‘I’ve got to get an electric guitar,” he said. “I started playing in bands and gigging at dances and church functions at about 13.”
As he got older and more established, he played with the band The Naturals.
For Sousa, he started playing guitar when he was 10. His brother had a guitar but couldn’t play it well.
“I just picked it up and started playing it,” he said.
Some of his favorite artists include Tom Rush, Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane and The Rolling Stones, a band they cover often.
They are also in the process of working on an EP of a few originals and a few covers to be released in the future. For now, they are looking forward to tomorrow night.
“The last time we played at the Rocky Point Pub, I asked the bartender how the night went and she said, ‘There were all different kinds of people here,’” said Matthews. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and she said, ‘Well, there were some really young kids here, bikers here, older people, business people. It was a beautiful night.’”
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