SHORE’S CHAMPIONSHIP BLUESBUSTER BRINGS O’REE-LY BIG SHOW

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, February 7 2019

It was some time in 2006 when Shore music fans came to the sobering realization that, effective immediately, they would have to share dibs on Matt O’Ree with the rest of the planet.

The clincher was Guitar Center’s annual King of the Blues competition for that year; a contest that the young blues-rock guitarist from Holmdel aced over a field of thousands of contenders for the throne. In addition to the instantly conferred cred, it was an accolade that netted O’Ree a cash prize, a Gibson Guitars endosement, a personal Guitar Center shopping spree — and a brand new Scion automobile, about which more in a bit.

It was a sure shot in the arm for the young veteran who’d made his rep playing in just about every indoor or outdoor setting to be found on the regional scene — from the portable parkside stages of the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation’s summer series, to the hallowed halls of BB King’s, and pretty much every barroom, bistro, barn, backyard BBQ or boardwalk bench between.

“I was using credit cards to finance my career up to that point,” recalls the guitarist who formed his first edition of the Matt O’Ree some 25 years ago, in 1994. “So no matter how much mileage I get out of that win, being able to pay off those cards was the greatest feeling!”

That said, the single greatest thrill of Matt O’Ree’s career arguably occurred nearly a decade after that, when he was tapped by Bon Jovi to serve as an onstage guitarist for the mega-band’s Burning Bridgestour of major international markets.

“Suddenly I went from playing to a couple of dozen regulars at a local bar, to being in front of anywhere from 50 to 70 thousand people,” he says. “It was an awesome perspective to be able to experience…truly a magic moment.”

As the hometown guitar hero confesses, the aftermath of the Bon Jovi tour was an interval that “took a bit of adjustment,”while he resumed a schedule of hyper-local gigs that included a first-Friday monthly set at the music-friendly Red Bank bar Jamian’s — a tradition that he maintains to this day.

At the same time, a sold-out “homecoming” show at the Stone Pony served to “O’Ree-inforce” the fact that the guitarist was operating on a newly heightened level of play —  a fact borne out by the release of his 2016 album Brotherhood.

A followup to such multiple Asbury Music Award-winning opuses as Shelf Life, the long-player found the singer-songwriter-instrumentalist (then newly named to the NY/NJ Blues Hall of Fame) working within some rarefied company — in particular Bon Jovi charter member David Bryan, with whom he cemented his friendship and professional partnership via their co-authorship of the album’s breakout track “My Everything Is You.”

The keyboard man would go on to make several guest appearances at O’Ree gigs — and listeners would soon enough discover that the cut “Black Boots” boasted backing vocals by one Bruce Springsteen. In addition to the legendary Memphis guitarman Steve Cropper, a deeper delve into the recording sessions revealed additional collaborations with Blues Traveler harpist John Popper and Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell— with O’Ree divulging that he’s “still sitting on”tracks featuring those artists, whose contributions were cut from the final release due to legal issues.

Even with all of that collaborative energy zinging about, the most significant partnership of Matt’s career was soon to manifest itself — and when the Matt O’Ree Band takes to the stage of Monmouth University’s Pollak Theatre this Saturday, February 9, audiences will key in on a genuine labor of love in big, bluesy bloom. Continue reading

8/14: Solo Beatles, Big Band Bob

Bandiera on the Run: Guitarist Bob Bandiera (at right) calls the Jersey Shore Rock ‘N Soul Revue to action this Friday, August 17, for a tribute to the post-Beatle careers of the Beatles. He’ll be joined by Bob Burger (at left), who’s been known to share a stage with Sir Paul McCartney.

They may be called The Jersey Shore Rock ‘N Soul Revue, but the intermittently appearing supergroup skippered by guitarist and vocalist Bob Bandiera can be claimed by Red Bank as something all its own.

The veteran of over 40 years’ worth of local barband gigs continues to see the world (and even play for heads of state) as touring guitarist with Bon Jovi, when he’s not busy maintaining a longstanding lieutenancy with Southside Johnny and the Jukes. Back home in Jersey, Bandiera’s been known to plan the occasional holiday-season Hope Concert (a star-studded series that’s boasted the participation of Bruce Springsteen, Southside, JBJ and more), travel with Tim McLoone’s Holiday Express, and, somewhere in there, prosecute a solo career that’s seen him play everywhere from theater-scale venues to the barstool in the corner at your favorite hometown watering hole.

Still, it’s those Rock ‘N Soul one-night-stands at the Count Basie Theatre that have remained the best showcases of Bandiera’s versatility, virtuosity and encyclopedic mastery of pop music. Fronting a jukebox Justice League of talented friends from the regional bandscape, the guy who cut his teeth in such classic coverclub combos as Holme and Cats has conceived, rehearsed and performed tributes to favorite artists (Roy Orbison, Eric Clapton, The Bee Gees), as well as a Tribute to Trios, One Hit Wonders, Bands of Brothers and about a half dozen other theme-perfect entertainments.

This Friday night, August 17, the 14 piece “Basie House Band” reconvenes at the Monmouth Street landmark for a special salute to the music of The Beatles. Special, because it’s a “Tribute to Their SOLO Careers,” a rich vein of material from the years in which the former MopTops would continue to write and make guest appearances on each other’s recordings — provided they didn’t all have to be in the same room together. UpperWETside spoke to Bob Bandiera on why the 8 pm event may be even more special than we reckoned; flip the record over for more.

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