The Sun Messengers will celebrate the release of their new CD, “Get On Up and Dance,” with performances Friday and Saturday (Feb. 18-19) at the Blue Goose Inn in St. Clair Shores. But, it will be more than just a CD release party. The gigs mark the 30th anniversary for the horn-driven party band.
“I don’t think I ever had any kind of expectations (for that kind of longevity),” said saxophonist Rick Steiger, 54, one of two original members still in the band, along with trombone player-vocalist John “T-bone” Paxton. “How could you, especially when you’re in your 20s?”
The CD gives band members a chance to demonstrate their unique R&B sound that also incorporates elements of other musical styles, including jazz and blues.
“We wanted to showcase our original music and all the songs are originals except one,” Steiger said. “Being it is our 30th anniversary, for the CD we reached back in time to pull out some songs that still reflect our sound. Two of the songs, the title song ‘Get On Up and Dance’ and ‘Talk Is Cheap,’ were both originally recorded in the early ‘90s.”
Another song, “Crazy ‘Bout You Baby,” marks the vocal recording debut of Paxton, who was the original vocalist for the band, which started out as a strictly instrumental group.
Other current group members include drummer-vocalist Terry “Thunder” Hughley, keyboardist-vocalist Arthur “Speq” Colden, bass guitarist Tipp Hayes, guitarist Dan Mayer, saxophonist Gary Kwek and trumpeter John Douglas. Thunder, one of several longtime members, has been with the band for 20 years, while Douglas joined just last year.
“He’s a kid,” Steiger joked. “He’s only 40.”
The Sun Messengers were officially formed in 1980, but the band goes back to 1977-78 with the name Kuumba, playing original jazz music in clubs in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood in Detroit.
“We had great success from the very beginning,” Steiger said. “We’ve always had a vibe and a special sound that people liked.”
Over the years, the band has opened for Jay Leno and backed up R&B luminaries such as Martha Reeves, The Drifters and Sir Mack Rice (“Mustang Sally”).
For the past 15 years, the Sun Messengers have been the house band for the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
“It’s great to be a part of a big show like that,” Steiger said. “It’s funny, because when we first started doing that we were very well prepared, because in the 1980s we had been doing a lot of TV, ‘Kelly and Company’ and ‘Good Afternoon Detroit.’ They wanted a similar thing, the bumps in and out, and that prepared us for the gigs with the Pistons.
“It’s been wonderful. Winter is traditionally a slow season for bands, so it’s been a real blessing.”
The band’s alumni include the late Lyman Woodard on keyboards; drummer RJ Spangler, who is still very active on the Detroit music scene; trumpeter Michael Ray (Kool & The Gang, Sun Ra), and renowned jazz horn player James Carter, who often subbed with the band while still in high school.
“We’ve invited some of our alumni to come out and sit in or just hang out (at the Blue Goose),” Steiger said. “Maybe some of our other talented friends who’ve worked with the band will join in. It should be a really good time.”
The Sun Messengers have played an unbelievable variety of venues over the last three decades including the famed Sloppy Joe’s in Key West, Myskins in Charleston, S.C., CBGB’s in New York, The Cubby Bear and Fitzgerald’s in Chicago and The Bamboo Club in Toronto, as well as the Detroit Jazz Festival, the Ann Arbor Summer Music Festival, and the Mackinac Island Jazz Festival.
But, after 30 years, the Sun Messengers are still looking ahead, hoping to fulfill the desire to tour Europe and Japan.
The band’s place in the Detroit music scene is well established.
“People still think of us and call us,” Steiger said, “because we’ve delivered a solid product all these years.”
The CD release party for “Get On Up And Dance” will be Feb. 18-19 at the Blue Goose Inn, 28911 Jefferson Ave., in St Clair Shores (586-294-0690). There will be a $5 cover charge.
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