JunkBelly

World staff writer

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Wenatchee blues band Junkbelly. From left: Jeff Frantz, Mike Gamble, Wayne Evans and Wally Penhallegon.

WENATCHEE — The blues begins when JunkBelly’s Wayne Evans shuts his eyes. The singer leans back as his fingers fly across the frets. His face contorts with emotion.

The meandering riff seemed to mesmerize the 50 people watching JunkBelly at Wenatchee Blues Jam at Caffé Mela Monday night. Some bobbed with the beat or tapped hands on knees. Everyone stared.

Evans then nodded to his fellow bandmates, who took back the melody with seamless precision. The crowd whistled and shouted.

“Yeah, now that’s the blues,” Coconuttie Shores called from one of the front-row tables.

These stretches of improvisation — the open road — tucked between the well-rehearsed verses and tight transitions are what the band loves about the blues.

“There’s a common thread that we share through the blues,” said bassist Mike Gamble. “People know the tunes and chords. There’s a basic form that people take. Inside that form there’s a lot of room for people to express themselves. That’s when the magic happens.”

“It’s new and old all into one,” added guitarist Jeff Frantz.

JunkBelly’s challenge next week is to translate that intimate cafe experience to a huge crowd at the Town Toyota Center. At the recommendation of Town Toyota Center staffers, the band was chosen to open for B.B. King on Wednesday. It will be the highest-profile gig they’ve landed in their three years playing together.

“It was a fun two weeks right after we found out, because everyone on their own level was nervous. ‘OK, what songs are we going to do, when do we want to practice?’” said drummer Wally Penhallegon. “Then as we started figuring things out, the nervousness went away and the excitement started to build. We’re anxious for that day to come.”

The band narrowed down their 60-song repertoire to seven favorites. They have rehearsed them over and over, eight hours a week, for the past two months.

Photo by Rachel HansenJeff Frantz, Wayne Evans, Mike Gamble and Wally Penehallegon cq

 

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“It’s that understanding that we’re playing for the king of blues,” Evans said. “I want it to be complimentary so when he comes on stage he can say, ‘Wow, those guys were good.’ ”

“Oh, man, that would be the ultimate,” Gamble said with a chuckle.

Evans joked about sneaking a good whiff of Lucille, King’s famous guitar, to find out what the blues smell like. Gamble just wants to shake King’s hand and introduce himself.

Evans formed JunkBelly in fall 2008 after moving here from Austin, Texas, where he was a full-time musician. All of the band members played with other groups before, and agreed that JunkBelly’s chemistry works well.

“I consider myself a blues guy,” Evans said. “But I’ve been in bands that have different dynamics. There’s always, ‘I want to do this, I want to do that.’ I think we finally got to the point where I have a group of guys that feel the same way.”

The Inland Empire Blues Society recently nominated them as “Best New Blues Band” for 2011. At press time, the band had traveled to Spokane for the awards ceremony. They won third place last spring in the Inland Empire’s International Blues Challenge.

The band remains humble, despite their success. After the B.B. King show, their goal is to play for the Winthrop Rhythm and Blues Festival, the oldest and biggest in the state. It’s another bucket-list achievement, Gamble said.

“I teach seventh grade. I’m a normal average guy, and the opportunity to play on a big stage and be a rock star for 30 minutes is pretty cool,” Gamble said of the B.B. King show. “It’s something everyday people don’t usually get to do.”

Rachel Hansen: 664-7139

hansen@wenatcheeworld.com

World staff writer

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Popular Wenatchee blues-rock band JunkBelly — from left, Jeff Frantz, Wayne Evans, Mike Gamble and Paul Mares — gets the spotlight this weekend at the ongoing Mountain Music Festival, held at Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort.

Before moving to Wenatchee two years ago, singer-guitarist Wayne Evans posted an ad on craigslist looking for musicians to jam with when he got here.

He already had a group of folks lined up before rolling into town from Austin, Texas, and had his new band, JunkBelly, assembled within two months.

The group of Wenatchee-area blues rockers will rock the Mountain Music Festival at Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort Saturday.

Evans described the band’s music as a mix of blues, pop and rock, sort of a combination of the Allman Brothers, JJ Grey and Mofro and Los Lonely Boys.

They play a mix of original tunes and their own renditions of music by other bands. The group features Evans on guitar, Jeff Frantz on guitar and keyboards, bassist Mike Gamble (who also plays bass for Wenatchee-area band Salmon Dave) and Paul Mares on drums.

Evans said he was playing music full time in Austin with a band called the Boogie Monsters when he and his wife moved to Wenatchee to be close to her ailing father. Evans was the founding member of the Boogie Monsters in Reno, Nev., before moving the band to Texas. With the band, Evans shared the stage with such classic acts as the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Tommy Castro, Booker T Jones, Dick Dale and more.

He was eager to assemble another band here and begin performing. He pulled together a group of Wenatchee-area musicians who had all previously performed in other bands. He described them as “seasoned musicians who have made their individual trips around the block but still have the passion for music and the experience to know what they want from it.”

JunkBelly played its first local event just a few months later on New Year’s Eve 2008. It finished second in Wenatchee’s Battle of the Bands in 2009 and co-headlined the Moonlight Music Festival in Plain that same year.

The band is now working on its first CD. Its original music has had some airtime on music radio stations in Truckee, Calif., and Spokane, Evans said.

Evans said he’s really interested in developing a solid blues music scene in Wenatchee. Earlier this month, he organized the first of what he hopes will become a monthly blues jam at the Grizzly Lounge at the Red Lion Hotel.

“I know there are a lot of musicians out there who are playing, but not linked in with other people,” he said. “I’m looking forward to being a part of an effort to grow that community here.”