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Memories of Ernie Williams are still strong for Emanatian

Sunday, June 2, 2013
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Q & A


The late bluesman Ernie Williams will be the focus of a tribute on Saturday by former members of his band, including guitarist Mark Emanatian, left.
The late bluesman Ernie Williams will be the focus of a tribute on Saturday by former members of his band, including guitarist Mark Emanatian, left.

From 1991 to 2002, Mark Emanatian played lead guitar for the Ernie Williams Band.

In that 11-year span, Emanatian became an integral part of the blues legend’s sound and style, helping co-write material for six of Williams’ albums, bringing a classic rock influence to Williams’ blues and gospel-drenched material. During Emanatian’s stint, the band played as far out as Los Angeles and Toronto.

Since leaving Williams, Emanatian has kept busy with a number of projects, including Folding Sky and its successor, Soul Sky.

But Emanatian remained close with Williams, his family and the rest of the band. After Williams’ death in March of last year, Emanatian reunited with other past members of the Ernie Williams Band to play a handful of memorial concerts.

Emanatian and other past members of the Ernie Williams Band will be together again Saturday night June 8 at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Troy for another tribute concert, which is planned to be an annual event moving forward.

Ernie Williams tribute

WHEN: 9 p.m. Saturday

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

HOW MUCH: Free

MORE INFO: 308-0401, www.dinosaurbarbque.com

Q: How did this tribute show at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que come about?

A: A year ago we did the Ernie Williams benefit, tribute show, a memorial concert right after he died — it was a memorial concert on June 1 last year in Troy. [The benefit next weekend] is sort of in anniversary of that, and to celebrate his music. It was a way to get everyone together, all of Ernie’s fans and the band, to once again play the music that Ernie brought here — we’ll be doing songs from all seven of his albums. And Dinosaur Bar-B-Que wanted to host it, so that’s how it came about.

Q: Who from the Ernie Williams Band will be playing the show?

A: Well, I come from the era with Ernie Williams and the Wildcats. Joe [Mely, guitarist] is from both eras, the Wildcats and the Ernie Williams Band. Rocky Petrocelli was playing from the start of Ernie Williams and the Wildcats; Mike Kelly was Ernie’s keyboard player for 15 years, and maybe longer. And Steve Aldi [bassist] was with Ernie for the last five years.

Q: Will this be an annual event?

A: Yes, we’re looking at it to be an annual thing, just to keep — his family would like to do it. A bunch of fans have approached us about keeping Ernie’s memory and music alive. We had thought about doing it February around his birthday, but it couldn’t come together. It looks like it’s coming together now.

Q: How have rehearsals been going?

A: We did a show a couple of weeks ago at the Ale House in Troy, so we did that, and last summer around Ernie’s passing we did 16 shows. We’re not going to do a whole bunch of rehearsals before, because all of us have played together in bands — either Ernie’s band or in others — forever, so it’ll be very good, very heartfelt. It’ll be looser than if you really spent a whole bunch of time doing it, practicing, but it’ll definitely be a show. We’re gonna do songs from every one of his CDs, a couple of covers that were his originally, a couple of gospel numbers Ernie always liked doing.

Q: How did you first meet Ernie Williams and start playing with him?

A: Well, I first met Ernie, I filled in for somebody. When I first met Ernie, I had just moved — I’m from the area, but I moved away after college and moved back here to raise my kids here, from Boston. And I was itching to play again — I hadn’t played in Boston a bunch; I was very busy with a job and family and stuff. So I filled in for a great guitar player, Joe Hetko, who was playing in this band that would play once a month in Arbor Hill. And I met Ernie in the parking lot, I’d never met him before. And I played with him. At the end of the night he said — there was like seven guys in the band — and at the end of the night he said, ‘Would you like to play with me regular?’ And regular was twice a month, once on Sunday, once on Saturday. And 11 years later I stopped playing with him. So the regular of twice a month became in 1995, 287 shows, and we went to Chicago, to Los Angeles, to Atlanta, to Baltimore, D.C., Toronto, Montreal, traveled all over, played all over, recorded a bunch of albums — six albums when I was with him. Had a great time, and then, you know, bands are like hard marriages, and after a while I needed to do something different. I was always more — he indulged me on playing ‘All Along the Watchtower’; it wasn’t like he wanted to do ‘All Along the Watchtower.’ So you’re seeing Ernie up there playing ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ or something — it wasn’t where his cup of tea was. And when I stopped playing with them, they did a more traditional blues-y thing.

But I had a great time with him, and was very moved and sad when he passed. But he had a great, huge long life. He had a really long one before he showed up in Albany in 1961, before — God, he had already plowed the fields of Virgnia, North Carolina, Harlem, Columbus, Ohio — I mean, he had been around by the time he showed up here. Once I played with him at the Twilight Lounge, which I don’t believe is still there, on Green Street in Albany, and they pulled a hat and a poster from when he had been playing in 1961 with the Ernie Williams Trio at that place, the Twilight Lounge.

Q: What stood out about his music?

A: You know, he was a charismatic performer; he loved people; he loved gospel music, and you could hear in his finest stuff, you could hear that with him. And I think making blues records is not the easiest thing because there’s been a lot of them, there’s been a lot of great ones, and there’s a lot of great blues songs written and there’s not that many left. You know, you can’t bring — it’s very difficult to bring something new to it. But his finest stuff — things like ‘So Long’ off of his ‘Harvest Time’ record, and ‘Sister’ off of the ‘Sister’ record, and ‘Sun Goin’ Down’ off of that record — his finest things, the one or two songs per album that he put out — because I think he did eight albums — they’re like really good. They’re really, really good — soulful, honest, he was a really honest singer. He was a deep feeling guy.

Q: What years were you in the band?

A: That’s a really good question. I’m gonna say 1991 to, who knows? What 11 years would be. 1991 is when I started playing with him. Actually, believe it or not, St. Patrick’s Day 1991 at the TC Club on Swan Street. Yup, St. Patrick’s Day. And we played from 10 to 4 in the morning, and they gave us $50 per person, but I had to buy my own beers and all they had was Genesee in bottles, I’ll never forget it. They were like three dollars or something, and by the end of the night. They did long songs — they would do like, ‘It’s your thing — tell me what you wanna do,’ that thing, and they would do that for 45 minutes. They were dancing, and I saw some of the dirtiest dancing. There was basically one white guy, and then two white guys in the band, and it was a big band, and I knew Ernie was in charge of the band because I knew his last name and the rest of the guys were like Foot, Doc, Spark. I know their names now, but I didn’t know them then. And they would milk it, and people would be doing things that you’re just going, ‘Oh, my God.’ And they knew the Chitlin’ circuit sort of, really dirty, ... they knew a lot of them. And actually, Ernie liked deep blues, like Son House and stuff like that, but he loved the Little Milton, Clarence Carter. But the lighter, happier sort of party blues, he loved that. He loved the deep feeling stuff, but he liked getting people — he loved Jimmy Reed, loved Jimmy Reed.

 
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