February 18, 2010

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From Lamont Smooth to Otis Jones
Practicing hard, playing out, new band hits bar circuit
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

There’s a bit of kismet in the stories of most bands, but Otis Jones came together due to quite a few happy accidents. Guitarist Andy Laliotis started the Grateful Dead tribute band Blue Light Rain after a long run with Concord jam band Lamont Smooth, which broke up at the end of 2007.

Last October, Laliotis met drummer Pete Jones through mutual friends one night at the Barley House in Concord.  Jones said he was a fan of Lamont Smooth, had seen their shows and wanted to get together and make music if Laliotis was interested. They booked time in Blue Light Rain’s Bow rehearsal space and invited a bass player.

They also asked Joe Ganley to join the session on percussion. Ganley had played guitar with Andy and his brother George (Lamont Smooth, Amorphous Band, Mindseye) at an informal jam just a few months before.

“But our bass player didn’t show up,” Laliotis said the other day as he drove to practice. No problem — it turned out multi-instrumentalist Ganley also played bass.

“We had a bass lying around and an amp,” Laliotis said. “We just clicked right away. The first three times we played it was incredible. One session started at midnight and ended after three in the morning.”

Then Ganley announced he was moving to Virginia. “I didn’t know how long he was going to be gone for; he said six months,” Laliotis recalled. But in early January, Andy’s cell phone rang: “It’s Joe. He says, ‘I’m back.’ We started jamming again, and we played our first gig on January 25 at the Green Martini.”

Because they’re new and need enough material for a few sets — their next appearance is Friday, Feb. 19, at the Green Martini — they’re playing several covers while they work on original material. A typical night includes classic rock like Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile,” “Badge” and “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream, alongside traditional blues numbers from Little Milton and Freddie King, and reggae standards from Jimmy Cliff or Bob Marley.

Laliotis says Otis Jones shares a few things in common with his old band: “There are some Lamont Smooth influences, being that Lamont Smooth is how I learned to play, but we definitely have our own style.”

That involves taking a song like Pink Floyd’s “Time,” breaking it down to a few basic elements, and turning it into a long, improvisational jam. In the same way, they make “Harder They Come” less languid, and mark it with  lead guitar bursts from Laliotis. 

They’re writing originals at a rapid pace — three in the last week alone, according to Laliotis. “Santorini” has Phish-like elements and features lyrics about ditching the bad weather for a Mediterranean vacation. The jazz-fusion “Muskrat Rumpus” has no vocals, and Laliotis says a lot of the band’s originals are instrumentals, but the lyrics are starting to flow again. 

“I had writer’s block but I’m getting through it,” he says. “That’s kind of a good thing when you start a new band — you want to be writing.”

For now, the band is focusing on practicing hard and playing out as much as it can. He thinks the crucible of the bar scene is the best way to improve their sound.

Though Lamont Smooth was a large band, sometimes reaching seven members, Laliotis said, they have no plans to grow Otis Jones beyond a trio. Once all the pieces fell into place, he said, they liked what they had.

“We thought about adding a keyboard player,” he said, “but it didn’t seem like we were missing much.”


Otis Jones
Where: Green Martini, 6 Pleasant St. Ext., Concord, 223-6672
When: Friday, Feb. 19, at 8 p.m.