Black & White
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Black & White

Band Blues Rock


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"Review: 45 RPM"

By Bob Gulla:

You know how when you live somewhere for a long time you tend to overlook certain aspects of the place, no matter how significant? Like, for instance, many New Yorkers have never been to see the Statue of Liberty, or have never visited the top of the Empire State Building. Here in Rhode Island, we probably don't go to the beach as often as we should, even though it's right down the road. We don't go to Roomful shows as often now either, even though they are our greatest musical treasure . . .

. . . Black & White suffers from the same neglect. Not that people don't go to see them. Hell, they probably get more people seeing them on an annual basis than the total attendance of 50 local bands. Together more than 10 years, they play virtually every weekend. They may not get the marquee gigs that a few other local bands manage to land, but they play steadily and they get people dancing. And when you get people dancing, they get thirsty. You know what happens from there. Let me tell you one more thing because it's important: they make a living playing music.

Black & White has had a new CD out for almost two months. Like neglecting the Statue of Liberty, I neglected publicizing the event or even reviewing the disc. Their name is around the state so much that they've become part of the fabric of Rhode Island's pop culture. Is that bad? I don't think so. It's just that sometimes they're such a part of the fabric, like the Big Blue Bug on Thurbers Avenue, they get overlooked.

Produced and engineered by Joe Moody at Danger Multitrack in Providence, 45 R.P.M. is the band's third album, and their first in four years. Recorded over a two-year period, the disc reflects the band's utter devotion to R&B, blues, and early rock. Like their idols -- the Fabulous Thunderbirds, the Paladins, and Chuck Berry -- they revere the roots of rock without reverting too obviously to a vintage sound. Co-writers Don DiMuccio (drums) and Mark Wagner (singer-guitarist) tag-team on five of the disc's eight tracks, resulting in a tight, original, and rollicking combination of gutsy old school rhythms and contemporary sensibility. The studio sound -- especially on the opening "Mood to Get Rude" and on the chugging, party-hearty "Catrina" -- is all crystal clean without being sterile.

But the best thing about 45 R.P.M. is that it doesn't adhere too closely to the rock-blues-R&B templates already set forth by so many great bands around town. When you're competing with the likes of Roomful, the Nakeds, and Young Neal, et. at, you're throwing up obstacles for yourself even before you get started. On songs like the slinky "Rhumba King," the neo-rockabilly title cut, and the oh-so-slightly Bakersfield sound of "The Illicit Tale of Jimmy D.," Black & White proves its versatility is an asset. And they're not afraid to follow their own divergent paths.

So don't fall victim to the same neglectful behavior I've been guilty of in this case. Go check out Black & White. Either buy this terrific disc, or see them at one of their many appearances in and around the state. And don't be surprised if they make you just a little thirsty. - Providence Phoenix - 12/2001

"Playing It Smart: Black & White Stick With It"

By Bob Gulla:

If you’re a band looking to survive in this frigid social climate, you have to be either really smart or really stupid. If you can figure out a way to keep a band going despite the odds, the obstacles, and the lack of opportunities, that would put you in the “really smart” category. You can also be blissfully ignorant, oblivious to those obstacles, unaware of the odds, and solely focused on the music, which would make you “really stupid.” Regardless of the method you follow — it could be some combination of both — you can occasionally reach your destination — breaking through to a wider audience. Usually the really smart bands are keen enough to figure out if they can or can’t make things work and they base their existence on that determination. The really stupid ones generally keep plugging a little longer, despite advice and suggestions and signals to the contrary, and they confound their critics and reach the promised land.
Black & White, formed in 1990, started out stupid and got smart really fast, which is why they’re still together today, 16 years later, playing up to five nights a week. The band, a calliope of blues, R&B, roots, and rock, is versatile enough to play to virtually any audience that sits in front of them, from alt-kids to blue-hairs, thanks to a deep repertoire and a flexible musical vocab. More a live band than a recording act, B&W is currently rejoicing in the release of their latest disc, So Much for the Classics Vol. 1. The four-song EP, produced and engineered by Joe Moody, features tunes by country icon Conway Twitty, the Drifters, and Eddie Cochran, along with a version of the surf standard “Pipeline.”

Piloted by drummer Don DiMuccio and bassist Kevin Martin, B&W is currently employing the Van Halen technique with singers, rotating frontmen like a Lazy Susan. Jason James, the singer featured on the EP, founding singer Erik Narwhal, Dave Howard, and Thom Enright all lend their pipes on alternating nights, making the B&W experience a fancifully colored one. - Providence Phoenix - 07/2006

"Black & White: It Take Two To Tango"

Black & White's latest CD, So Much for the Classics Vol. 1, is the group's fifth recording, but the first of what drummer Don DiMuccio calls the band's "Steely Dan" phase. And it's a phase he hopes doesn't end soon.

DiMuccio and bassist Kevin Martin are the permanent core members of the blues/rock/R&B band, and they use a rotating cast of frontmen/guitarists for various gigs. It's an unusual dynamic -- usually the singers and guitarists run the show. But DiMuccio is happy with the current setup.

Black & White started in 1990 with pianist/singer Erik Narwhal in front. They rose quickly through the scene, partially because they were so young to be playing such classic music in a time when hair metal was still going strong.

"I graduated high school and started a band," DiMuccio says. "We didn't know anything about anything; we thought we knew everything about everything."

After Narwhal left -- "it was like a divorce; we were kids" -- DiMuccio and Martin hooked up with singer/guitarist Mark Wagner for 11 years, ending amicably in 2004 when Wagner decided to get "a real life," DiMuccio says, starting a family and getting a full-time job. Black & White play four to five nights a week, including virtually every weekend.

"It's great if you're single" is how DiMuccio describes the life.

The drum and bass parts of what was to become So Much for the Classics were recorded last year, during the tenure of a singer and guitarist who didn't work out, DiMuccio says. But the tracks remained, and the band eventually got Jason James to play and sing over them.

James' hot rockabilly-influenced guitar and vocal howl make an excellent complement to the rhythm section of DiMuccio and Martin, on classic covers such as "Something Else" and lesser-known songs such as Conway Twitty's "Lonely Blue Boy" (which James brought to the band, and they recorded fresh).

"We've got the experience and he's got the energy," DiMuccio says. "He woke us up."

JAMES started in the band about two years ago as a fill-in "understudy," DiMuccio says, and has quickly become the frontman of choice on about 80 percent of the band's gigs. James remains with his own band, Jason James and the Bay State House Rockers, for shows in the Worcester area.

On other shows, the band plays with such local blues stalwarts as Dave Howard and Tom Ferraro, of the High Rollers, and Thom Enright. And they've patched things up with Narwhal and are playing with him again. Having frontmen to choose from makes it easy to tailor the band to each particular gig, and to the club's clientele.

DiMuccio says this is the way of the future for Black & White -- "I don't want to get locked into one guy again."

It's a second wind for the band, which started when "being in a band was admirable," DiMuccio says. He bemoans the heyday of alternative rock -- "it ruined so much. . . . [Now] it just seems like everyone's in a band."

He eschews the college circuit, even though it can pay well, describing the attitude of the audience with a haughty "Oh, jukebox boy!" He would rather play at events such as outdoor town concerts, even with audiences that can have a large concentration of "bluehairs with lawn chairs." Baby-boomer audiences "get what we're doing," he says.

So that's the plan for the foreseeable future. "Just keep doing what we're doing, have a backbreaking schedule, and have some fun."

Black & White celebrate the release of So Much for the Classics Vol. 1 on Sunday, July 16, at the Newport Blues Cafe. - Providence Journal - 07/2006

"Kind Of Blue: Black & White expand their palette on Hepcat"

By Mike Caito:

With the release of 1994's Get Wicked, Black & White proffered a new lineup. Original frontman Erik Marzocchi started his own band (the Blue Manatees), so Mark Wagner's arrival as singer and guitarist represented a sea change for the revamped trio. Wagner's comparatively understated delivery has gained confidence in the past three years, which makes Hepcat (C&D Records) a frisky and funky little disc. He sings a bit like Dave Howard, and his riffs are well-informed, with ample taste and space, reminiscent of Loaded Dice's Rob Nelson or, to a lesser extent, High Roller Tom Ferraro. But the best news is that whether shuffling, sliding or swinging, the outfit once again sounds like a band. While drummer Don DiMuccio acknowledged the different challenges they faced as a young "rock and roll band" circa Get Wicked, he's correct in describing Hepcat as having moved Black & White "several steps in the right direction."

Q: Describe areas within blues where band ideas differ.

A: We came from different angles with a love for blues. Kevin (Martin, bassist) comes up with the funk; he likes Taj Mahal and modern jazz. Mark is a big band guy who loves Charlie Christian and Benny Goodman. I like Little Richard, Chuck Berry and '50s R&B. And the Beatles. We don't like to go off on a genre within blues in one album, so this record's like a menu. You've got your swing, your rock and roll, your blues. When you get into an area where you're swinging for a whole album, you get labeled. Usually unfairly, because it's not what you do on the whole.

Q:That said, what are your favorite tracks on Hepcat?

A: The title track arrived 11th hour, and I think that's my favorite. Mark had said, "Too bad we didn't do a slide guitar track," and by that time we'd finished mixing the whole thing, but we all decided there was no reason we couldn't. So that track was recorded and mixed in one day. Joe [Moody, who produced] said that's the way he likes to work, too. And that's the way records should be made . . . not fawned over. Three of the songs were one-shot recordings, and the others we overdubbed just because we could.

Q: What's the biggest challenge for a blues trio?

A: It hasn't been a challenge. We noticed right off that the band got fatter. For my tastes, bands with three guitarists, two drummers, a guy on bongos, the sound gets thinner in a weird way. With a trio, it's easier to communicate, and it's been positive musically. Mark was always playing guitar with us anyways, just not as much with Mike [Bastien, original guitarist]. From Mark's first gig it just went. And that's another reason why we put this record out -- to document that change.

Q: What's unique about B&W?

A: I won't profess that we do anything no one else does. At this point in rock and roll, not to sound cynical, but a lot of ground has been covered. I shy away from the blues nomer. It's just rock and roll to me, and I've always said that. Ifeel bad when people are ashamed of that, and I'm not gonna deny that there's a strong Providence sound in there. In the eye of the storm we don't always hear that, but go up to Portland [Maine] and they'll tell you. We forget sometimes that this is a hotbed.

The Fabulous Thunderbirds have always been a major influence on us. I call it "leanin' on a lamppost blues." It's done effortlessly, and the T-Birds have a shuffle to the whole band that you just don't see in more well-known bands. Live, they even have walking onstage down to a science. Those guys are just cool, and were at their epitome of hipness when Jimmie [Vaughan] was with them. They've persevered, and that's something I can relate to in our own band. Ithink Dave mentioned in the High Rollers interview (August 15) that blues is cyclical. It has upswings and downswings, but that's irrelevant. If people respect what you do, they'll be there all the time whether or not your genre is hot. I say that because we're all gonna form a Hanson tribute band.

Q: Contrast the live version of the Vipers and Black & White.

A: One of the sad things when you're working is that you can't go see the bands you love whom you first went to see starting off in the business. That's them. So I'm not an expert on where they're at now, except for the high energy thing. That elevation. Neal, James Montgomery, Paul Murphy. When we started, instantly we said "that's what we've gotta do." When Isaw Neal last weekend Inoticed that he still commands a crowd. It's the same thing where we all want to get to that next level, and Neal's always danced on the edge, with the Atlantic Records thing. I think he should've been there, and still think he will. I love his last record.

Q: Did you get too close to this record in the studio?

A: That was exactly the case, to the point where we had to put it away when we'd start obsessing on it. Of course we could've done three more tracks. I hear things I'd like to re-record in my own playing. You mull, then everything comes into perspective when someone tells you their little kid's bopping around the house to it. You realize that's why you do it. You can't think it to death. In any field of art you can get too close to your own performance, and the more you add the more you end up subtracting, and there's always room for improvement. Idon't know a band who has ever put anything down on tape who will disagree with that, who has said, "Well, this is it, we've reached our apex." You might as well quit because you have nowhere to go.

Q: What's the smartest thing bands like B&W are doing today? The biggest mistakes?

A: Smartest? Listening to the right kind of music right off the bat. Mistakes of the trade? Covering the same old tired blues. Doing 75 Stevie Ray songs per night. They'll look around and realize that's not where it's at, and they'll make the necessary adjustments. We did. Every band did. Nobody comes out of the starting gate knowing all about live performance.

Q: You mentioned that alternative rock had a major impact.

A: A huge impact on where we're at. There's a whole different mindset. In the '80s, bands were gods. For good or bad, bands were respected. Fast forward to now, bands are almost superfluous, and just by definition many alternative bands downplay everything. Everything is so moody. The Generation X "woe is us" has made everybody miserable, their audiences forget how to have fun, and bands have become jukeboxes. Everybody with a guitar is in a band, and that has demystified it. There used to be a respect level, and the kids are gonna miss that. George Martin said, "We spent 10 years making rock and roll an art form, and in two years MTVtore that down." It'll bounce back up, and I can't complain about it. We're booked 'til next year." - Providence Phoenix - 09/1997

"Black & White Turn 15"

When Black & White started 15 years ago, drummer Don DiMuccio, bassist Kevin Martin, and guitarist Mike Bastien, with original lead singer Erik "Narwhal" Marzocchi, were fresh out of high school, "not yet old enough to legally drink in the clubs we were working, but full of piss and vinegar nonetheless," says DiMuccio. "There was no doubt that we’d be a national phenomenon. Our image would don lunch boxes on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line."

From the get-go, they parlayed their high-energy roots-rock into something enduring and worthwhile. "With Erik," says Don, "we mixed his quirky stage talent with our teenage rock energy." They were sharing club space with James Montgomery, Young Neal, and Roomful, and had asserted themselves quickly on the local and regional scene. But Erik left three years in and the band fractured. There were arguments over money and song selection and general mutiny in the ranks. Only a smooth and suave frontman/guitarist Mark Wagner, recruited on the suggestion of Dave Howard, steadied the ship. When Bastien left in 1995, after being diagnosed with MS, Wagner stepped up to the mike, a space he occupied for a decade until departing last year to be with his family.

A few temporary fill-ins later, B&W finds itself in the daunting yet enviable position of choosing a new frontman. Many local favorites have stepped up to the plate, including Dave Howard, Professor Harp, and even Narwhal as temps. "We’ve been really happy with our discovery of a Worcester kid named Jason James," offers DiMuccio. "He’s the embodiment of all our former frontmen in one rockabilly cat." Stay tuned. - Providence Phoenix - 10/2005


45 R.P.M. (2001)
HEPCAT (1997)

94-HJY Hometown Heroes (1994)
Digital Graffiti Vol. 4 (1993)



After twenty years of performing over 200 shows a year, BLACK & WHITE have become nothing short of a Rhode Island institution.

Since 1990, the band has adorned the stages of venues throughout New England, bringing forth their unique blend of high energy swing-blues and roots rock & roll. Among their achievements, Black & White have performed at the prestigious BOSTON BLUES FESTIVAL, and have had the honor of sharing billing with some of music history's top performers including Bo Diddley, Junior Wells, America, Eric Burdon and others.

Currently BLACK & WHITE use a rotating roster of frontmen who include some of the area's most celebrated performers.

Their original material has been used in television commercials, and was recognized by Billboard Magazine's World Song Competition. Additionally, the band was nominated in the 2000, 2002, 2003 & 2005 PROVIDENCE PHOENIX BEST MUSIC POLL - Best Blues/R&B Act Category.