October 1, 2009

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Switch hitters
Black Brook Band win big at NH Country awards
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

If versatility is the best measure of a bar band, the Black Brook Band has the country title. On Sunday, Sept. 20, the New Hampshire Country Music Association (NHCMA) named the Manchester six-piece both best traditional and best new country band at its 22nd annual awards show.

With a repertoire of standards from performers like George Jones, Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash, Black Brook has won the NHCMA traditional award before. In 2006, they took the state prize and went on to win the national title.

But this year was Black Brook’s first entering in the new country category.

The NHCMA competition is run, “Country Music Idol” style, with contestants performing for a panel of judges. Black Brook lead singer Marcus Knight says he didn’t expect to beat Jonathan Scott and the Blazing Hearts, who’d won multiple times in past years.

When the award was announced, says Knight, “I was numb. We were stunned that we took the both of them.”

Knight also took home a personal trophy, for best new country vocalist.

The Black Brook Band includes Shorty Champagne on guitar and pedal steel, Ray Ryan on lead guitar and vocals, the Vaillancourt brothers — Dick on bass and Bob on rhythm guitar — and “Puppet” Duperon, so nicknamed for his resemblance to the Muppet character Animal.

They’ve honed their versatility at places like Pelto’s Barn in Troy, where they play Saturday, Oct. 3. When Pelto’s patrons ask for a little Elvis mixed in with “Big River,” the band easily obliges. Their set list includes everyone from Toby Keith to the Traveling Wilburys, along with the old-school country the band’s members, all but one in their mid-fifties, grew up on.

Knight, born in Goffstown and raised in Manchester, lived with a musical family and started playing instruments at age 5. He learned to read music while in the Muchachos, a Manchester drum corps.

His home was typically filled with music.

“My older brother was a DJ back in the days when they had sock hops,” Knight says. “My mother and father had a stereo and played all the old country songs. We used to get together every Saturday and have a family jam. We’d play all kinds of instruments and sing along to the records.”

Later Knight teamed up with his younger brother, Billy Joe, who sang with the band for a few years before bowing out for health reasons. These days, Billy Joe serves as Black Brook’s sound engineer and occasional backup vocalist.

The band has released one album of original material, Old 97. There are echoes of Slim Whitman on “Pretty Señorita,” while tracks like “Truck Driver Blues” and “Say Goodbye” have a modern country sound. Old 97 ends with “Tears Keep Falling,” a gospel song that Knight says “deals with things going on in the world today, and why God is crying making rain.”

Knight and the band will head to a New England regional contest in Manchester, Conn., on Oct. 10. Regardless of how that turns out, they will go to the national competition next March in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., the site of their 2007 victory.

Knight is busy clearing his work schedule for the trip (all of Black Brook’s members hold down regular jobs), but doubts it can top the rush of winning in 2007.

“That was the highest point,” he says. “We performed in front of over 1,500 people. The place was twice as big as the Palace Theatre. You could fit the Palace Theatre on their stage.”


Black Brook Band
When: Saturday, Oct. 3, at 8:30 p.m.
Where: Pelto’s Barn, 161 Bigelow Hill Road, Troy
Tickets: $7 per person, $13 per couple, 21+
Info: www.pelotsbarnsite.com
Other upcoming Black Brook Band shows:
• Saturday, Oct. 10, at 8:30 p.m. at American Legion, 96 Islington St., Portsmouth
• Saturday, Oct. 31, at 8 p.m. at Circle 9 Ranch, Epsom
• Friday, Nov. 6, at 6 p.m. at Workman’s Club, 183 Douglas St., Manchester