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MailTribune.com
  • The evolution of Billy Rock

    The Ashland songwriter has new bandmates and a new, soulful sound
  • In Seattle, he was J. Vito. In San Diego, he was Tony Vee, but in Ashland, Jeff Smith is Billy Rock.
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    • If you go
      Who: Billy Rock Blue
      When: 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 7-8
      Where: Alex's Plaza Restaurant, 35 N. Main St., Ashland
      Cover: $5
      Call: 541-482-8818
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      If you go
      Who: Billy Rock Blue

      When: 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 7-8

      Where: Alex's Plaza Restaurant, 35 N. Main St., Ashland

      Cover: $5

      Call: 541-482-8818
  • In Seattle, he was J. Vito. In San Diego, he was Tony Vee, but in Ashland, Jeff Smith is Billy Rock.
    Smith assumed the moniker — a play on rockabilly — nearly a decade ago after deciding that there were too many Jeffs making music in the area. (At the time, he was part of a trio with Jeff Addicott and Joe Diehl.) He's answered to Billy Rock ever since.
    More recently, as a way of acknowledging his move from rockabilly to blues and soul, Smith began calling his project Billy Rock Blue, a name inspired by his idol Otis Redding's 1965 recording, "Otis Blue."
    "Soul is in my heart even more than blues, although they cross over, and it was for Otis as well," says Smith, adding that his stage antics also have been compared to Otis'.
    In just three years, there have been more than six configurations of Billy Rock Blue. The most recent, formed earlier this year, includes Leonard Griffie (Karen Lovely) on lead guitar, Mark Cunningham (The Afterburners and Main Street Blues Band) on bass and, of course, Billy Rock on drums.
    "This particular lineup has some true magic to it," Smith says.
    The trio will play at 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 7-8, at Alex's Plaza Restaurant, 35 N. Main St., Ashland. The cover is $5.
    Smith and Griffie met in 2011 touring with Lovely.
    "You can't fake (the blues) with Leonard," Smith says. "He is what he is, and Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Water come out when he's playing."
    Smith left Lovely's band in 2012, but he and Griffie teamed up early this year to perform, as well as to promote Griffie's forthcoming, self-produced album — a collection of original, old-school, straightforward blues.
    "Live there's a little more rock edge to the blues — like Buddy Guy and Freddy King — where he (Griffie) gets to let things rip," Smith says.
    In addition to Griffie's original blues and Smith's original soul and R&B, Billy Rock Blue plays blues standards, such as "Born Under a Bad Sign," "Boom Boom," Sweet Home Chicago," and "Bring It On Home."
    "It's soul man meets bluesman, and this is what you get," Smith says. "You'll hear 'Stormy Monday' (by T-Bone Walker) and then, all of a sudden, get 'Funky Broadway,' that's Wilson Pickett."
    Look for Billy Rock Blue Thursday, June 27, and Tuesdays, July 2, July 9 and July 30, at EdenVale Winery, 2310 Voorhies Road. See www.billyrockblue.com and www.leonardgriffie.com for more information.
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