With a style as curt and rhythmic as their name, The Dukes Of Juke smoldered through a recent Saturday evening at the Ringside Cafe in St. Petersburg. While the much-applauded "house" blues band took a sabbatical, The Dukes covered their Backtracks with their own brand of jaunty R&B stylings. Not much flash here, but root-bound music that provides its own gyrations and theatricality. Tied up in the corner of the Ringside, this quintet put up their Dukes and battled the blues like a man with his back to the wall.
From the original opening tune, "Chunky A", it was obvious that The Dukes Of Juke are a true tag team. Each member asserted his presence with a breezy solo turn in the percolating instrumental. It only took one more number, though, for the No. 1 Cool Hand Duke to make himself known.
Bobby Rose is a tightly wound ball of R&B that gradually loosens and sends out sparks with a throaty vocal, a whining harmonica riff or a sweltering saxophone solo. When the Dukes layed down "Cadillac Tracks", Rose deftly shifted from one outlet to another. He mimicked Roger Casey's guitar note-for-note on the harp, then moved the song into jazz fusion territory with his lips on a reed instead. His evil chuckle in the chorus set the blues scene as well as any of those instruments. Rose may be the most visually and aurally arresting of The Dukes, but he isn't the whole show.
Casey's dependable guitar and the nimble fingers of keyboardist Dan Hill swap the spotlight with Rose on numerous occasions. The rhythm section of drummer Jeff Hill and bassist Nick Nickerson is unassuming and insidious. The beat sneaks into your head and travels out of a tapping finger or foot. All five contribute melodius harmonies and sparse, efficient instrumental solos.
Even better than the musicians are the songs to which they apply themselves. Where else can you hear Wilson Pickett's "634-5789" right after a version of "Messing With The Kid" that proves how badly Huey Lewis screwed up that Junior Wells classic on his last album? Toss in some Ry Cooder ("Down In Hollywood"), Jack Mack and the Heart Attack ("She's So T.U.F.F."), and a James Cotton doubleheader-- and the daring diversity of The Dukes becomes apparent. This group offers much more than the ordinary cover bands who present golden oldies that have tarnished with age.
My own personal favorites on this Saturday were Casey's rendition of the Randy Newman coke-and-soak classic "Guilty" and "Everything I Need (Almost)", one of the Blues Brothers' best efforts. Looking back, that combination goes far in explaining The Dukes appeal that has taken this band through most Tampa Bay venues like Gasparilla and Guavaween.
It is a stunning amalgamation of formula and fun that erases the boundaries of generations. The Dukes Of Juke have a reverent ear for the R&B classics-- and an irreverent winking eye for its audience.