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Reunited Rockin’ Bonnevilles finding new venues, younger fans

Thursday, February 14, 2013
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Scotty Mac and the Rockin’ Bonnevilles includes Mac on guitar and vocalist and harmonica player Ted Hennessey. Not pictured are bassist John Ellis and drummer Chad Ploss.
Scotty Mac and the Rockin’ Bonnevilles includes Mac on guitar and vocalist and harmonica player Ted Hennessey. Not pictured are bassist John Ellis and drummer Chad Ploss.

By 2002, Albany blues rockers Scotty Mac and the Rockin’ Bonnevilles had released three studio albums and were playing out with possibly their strongest lineup yet.

The classic lineup, as Mac calls it — featuring himself on lead guitar, vocalist and harmonica player Ted Hennessy, bassist John Ellis and drummer Chad Ploss — had finally coalesced around 2001’s “Graveyard For the Blues” album. With Ploss on board, the band was beginning to branch out from its blues roots, incorporating elements of ’50s rock and rockabilly.

That all changed when Mac injured his arm in 2002, effectively breaking up the Rockin’ Bonnevilles. He spent close to a year in recovery, and wasn’t even sure if he would ever play guitar again.

“It took me out for almost 11 months — I physically couldn’t play the guitar, and I didn’t know if I was ever going to again,” he said. “Yeah, that was the bad old days. By the grace of God, I did [play] again, and then went on a completely different — when I was fully recovered, I didn’t want to be in a blues band.”

Scotty Mac and the Rockin’ Bonnevilles

Where: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, 377 River St., Troy

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

How Much: Free

More Info: 308-0400, www.dinosaurbarbque.com

For the next decade, the band’s members went on to other projects — Hennessy formed acoustic trio The Doornails, while Ellis played with The Foy Brothers and Tom Healy.

After his recovery, Mac spent five years with local ’50s rock powerhouse Slick Fitty, touring Europe five times between 2004 and 2006. The experience completely changed his outlook.

“Over there it’s a way different vibe. You don’t have to beg people to come to your show — they want to hear rock ’n’ roll, and the want to hear American rock ’n’ roll,” he said. “I couldn’t believe the counterculture over there. . . . We got kids coming out, and I’d never played to kids before, or to young people, ever. I’d always played blues music, or blues-influenced music, and it was always an older crowd.”

European experience

In 2008, the Rockin’ Bonnevilles reunited for a one-off show, which set the gears in motion (albeit slowly) for the full-fledged reunion that took place in May of last year. The reincarnated band, featuring drummer Pete Vumbacco in place of Ploss, who currently plays with The Audiostars, has already logged about 15 shows since then. Next up is a gig Saturday night at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, one of the band’s favorite venues to play.

“They did a lot for us — we used to play at the [Dinosaur Bar-B-Que] in Syracuse and Rochester religiously,” Mac said. “It’s really rare that an out-of-town band, no matter what town they’re from, is embraced by another town.”

Summer plans

The band is looking ahead to booking more shows in the summer, with tentative dates at the Sharon Springs town square, Pauly’s Hotel in Albany and of course, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. There’s even been talk of recording again, but the group is in no rush.

“Years ago, when we were younger in a band, it was, ‘We gotta do this, we gotta do that, boom, boom, boom,’ and we did,” Mac said. “It’s more relaxed now. Ted’s got some songs that are really good; I’ve got some songs that I haven’t even arranged yet, so we aren’t playing them yet. It could happen. But it’s a different world now — do people buy CDs anymore?”

Even the official reunion, which took place at Pauly’s, was meant as just a one-off. Hennessy and Mac first began talking about getting the band back together last winter — at the time Mac was already playing with Ellis in a trio, Scotty Mac and the Gold Tops.

“We weren’t in any big hurry to do it,” Mac said. “We pulled it together, and the next thing I know, we booked — we were going to do one reunion show at Pauly’s Hotel, which we did, and that was going to be the reunion show. But we thought, ‘Well, that can’t be our first show; the band needs to really jell; we need a warm-up gig.’ So I booked a warm-up show at Franklin’s Tower, and Ted booked us at Club Helsinki.”

At first, Mac was admittedly a bit out of practice with the Rockin’ Bonnevilles’ material.

“I hadn’t played this stuff in so long,” he said. “I’ve been playing in rock bands for the last 10 years, and that’s nothing like the Bonnevilles.”

Younger audience

The band was also worried about jumping onto the music scene again — especially the blues scene — after a decade away. But the band has been able to draw well at its shows so far, and has even been attracting a younger audience.

“The blues scene, if there is one — there are fewer places to play for that kind of stuff, and the bands that were around then [when the Bonnevilles were first together], most of them aren’t around anymore,” Mac said. “But we draw, for the most part — knock on wood. We didn’t know if there was going to be an audience — we knew the diehards would be there, but we’ve picked up a lot of new fans. It’s been great.”

 
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