Blues Music Magazine
by Joseph Jordan
The Blossoming Of An Orchestra
When one thinks of a classic Soul-Blues orchestra, not many nationally-recognized bands might come to mind… Roomful of Blues and the late B.B. Kings’ bands are two at present.
However, a remarkable Northern California, Bay Area-based band led by a musical genius Anthony Paule, is starting to add to the rich & important history of larger Soul and Blues ensembles of the past.
The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra has joyously produced some of the most beautiful and heart-thrilling albums and given birth to one of the most compelling bands in the country. Their unique blend of Soul, Blues and R&B is a revelation and fans around the world have responded with resounding appreciation. The music industry is giving recognition and deserved accolades as well.
Anthony Paule was born in Durban, South Africa. He emigrated to LA and lived there until a mid-teen. He then moved to Northern California’s Bay Area in the early 70s and other than a few years in Wisconsin, he’s been a West Coaster ever since.
He was self-taught on clarinet in the 6th and 7th grade, but he got his first guitar from his brother at age 13 and that was it. Paule later stated, “The only time I pick up a clarinet now is to take the barrel off it, which makes a perfect guitar slide.”
His older brothers, along with his Dad, had very extensive record collections and the young Paule took full advantage of them by listening carefully. “Both brothers were highly influential in creating the way for me to follow a music career.” Paule would hear their records and get turned on to some monumentally great recordings in various styles such as Fats Domino, Richie Valens, Sam Cooke, Huey “Piano” Smith, Chuck Berry along with “a lot” of Soul music. He also listened to guitarists such as Tiny Grimes, Bill Jennings, Steve Cropper & Bobby Womack, all of whom he regards as influences.
Along the way, Paule when just a youngblood, became a huge Elmore James fan. It was the deep-throated, classic blues guitarist/vocalist James that brought him to “down home Blues music.” James slide-work in particular really hooked him on Blues, striking a deep resonating nerve within him. In 1968, Anthony received a double album of James from his dad, and “that was it. I became a Blues and Soul player.”
In younger days, like any number of musicians, Anthony Paule performed primarily cover-tunes in various bands, and in 1979-1985 found him performing local Soul band gigs (in his then home of Wisconsin,) the highlight of which was singing with his now wife Cristine Vitale. Their band, “Tina and the Tigers” played mostly Soul and Motown tunes (with horns) and the two soon started writing songs together. (Today, that song-writing and production collaboration happily continues.)
After moving back to California, Paule played lead guitar for 13 years with unique Northern California ensemble, The Johnny Nocturne Band. Tenor sax player Nocturne featured several excellent West Coast lead singers, which provided a wonderful learning experience for Paule.
The Nocturne band’s blend of Soul and Jump Blues captivated audiences at a multitude of venues and music festivals. In each location, Paule came closer to his eventual goal of being a songwriter/band leader/performer of his own.
Later in his career, Anthony gained recognition as being a featured lead guitar player touring with and backing up the likes of Boz Scaggs, Maria Muldaur, Barbara Lynn, Charlie Musselwhite and a host of others.
Paule’s also released two critically acclaimed solo LPs, “Big Guitar” and “Hiding in Plain Sight,” both primarily Blues, that are just marvelous in their musical integrity and inventiveness. Further along in his career, Paule’s collaborative Blues trio, The Hound Kings recorded a CD which came out right about the same time his first record with Philadelphia Soul and Blues singer, Frank Bey was released. “I knew I had to make a choice between what band I was going to put my energy into.”
When the Soul Orchestra really got rolling, he knew he had made the right decision The band was introduced (by noted South San Francisco promoter/producer Noel Hayes) to the music of, the late, much decorated and very much missed Bey starting in 2007. Paule, playing with his longtime keyboardist Tony Lufrano, started out his band with just a single horn, played by the wonderfully-talented, multi-BMA nominee, tenor saxophonist Nancy Wright.
Then came a musical revelation. The Porretta Soul Festival, held in a tiny town of 7,000-residents in Italy, (between Bologna & Florence) is one celebration most Soul music lovers would know. It is famous in Europe, and almost no other fests are dedicated purely to classic Soul music. There are regularly 2,500 – 3,000 concert-goers enjoying themselves and the music for a week in July, and people come from all over the world to participate. It turned out to be a showcase and an extremely important venue for the Orchestra.
In 2014 the Orchestra opened up Porretta and promoter/booker Graziano Uliani loved them. “We had gone with Frank Bey and both Graziano and I realized that the Soul Orchestra was a perfect band for the occasion.”
The Orchestra quickly became the house band at Poretta, backing up guest singers and learning up to 80 or 90 new songs per the week long event. The Fest featured 10-12 guest artists each year playing eight to nine songs each. “It was a hard job, as we had to write all the horn charts, endure 23 days of rehearsal and then Friday through Sunday in mid-summer, play the festival.” They backed up numerable artists such as Carla Thomas, the ageless Bobby Rush, Tennessee brothers Spencer and Percy Wiggins and eventually, Frank Bey.
Back in the States, Bey soon after suggested he’d like to play with a full horn section, which is exactly what occurred when the Orchestra backed him up on their first album together, “You Don’t Know Nothing.” They started out with a 3-piece horn section, and Paul confesses “until it was a four piece for Frank’s sake. I’m now addicted to having a full orchestra.”
Currently the Soul Orchestra has 9-pieces; 4 horns 4 rhythm and a lead singer. “If the budget’s there, we’ll add a baritone sax and three backup singers. I love a good horn section with from three to four horns.” For the first three LPs with Frank Bey, band-member, trombonist Mike Rinta and guitarist Paule wrote the inventive, intricate and punchy horn arrangements throughout Bey’s first recording of original songs.
With Paule’s longtime friend (since 1988) and Orchestra band-mate, the versatile and musically ingenious Tony Lufrano on keyboards, and the addition of Tom Poole on trumpet, they had themselves the beginning of an extremely well-polished band. “We felt like we fit together. I loved that band”
“We were nominated for several awards at the BMAs and went to Europe seven or eight times (with Frank) It was a very beneficial partnership and musically perfect. We really enjoyed playing music together.”
After that extremely rewarding time with Bey, the Orchestra had the good luck to start playing with R&B and Soul singer extraordinaire, the late Wee Willie Walker, who was raised in Memphis, Tennessee.
“I was familiar with Willie’s old recordings in the 60s and 70s, and there’s been eleven or so tracks reissued within the last decade, but I had no idea he was still playing music.”
During the latter portion of his life, Walker lived in St. Paul, Minnesota, but would come to the West Coast frequently to play with the Paule’s Orchestra.
Anthony and Willie completed three wonderful albums together, “If Nothing Ever Changes,” “After A While” and their soon-to-be mid-summer 2021 release, “Not In My Lifetime,” with the latter being produced by veteran music-man Jim Gaines at the 25th Street Recording Studio in Oakland, CA. “Not In My Lifetime’s” was mixed and completed in Tennessee. “Willie and I were very proud of the songwriting on that album.”
For the new release, Walker and the Orchestra recorded 10 originals and three covers, with the ubiquitous keyboardist/arranger Tony Lufrano helping to form the compelling horn charts.
Paule states, “Walker was on a high, and so excited to be planning a tour (pre-pandemic aside) in summer 2021 for a trip to Europe, until his very untimely death.” The Orchestra wrapped up the 13-track album on a Saturday and the next Tuesday, Walker had passed. Anthony sadly mentions, “It was such a blow, and I am extremely depressed still… it was a very tough one for me and all who knew Willie.”
Readers can hear one of the album’s tunes and Walker’s brilliance in the single, “I’m Just Like You” on YouTube at present. Walker’s major (you’ll have to take our word for it) recording with the Orchestra is sure to make waves with the Soul & Blues public.
In the past, Walker mostly sang his leads, but without any of his bands inviting him to join in the production. That changed. After a while Walker contributed to Paule’s Orchestra projects by being involved with the songwriting... and melodies, arrangements, over-dubs were all a big part of his excitement. “It was very collaborative, and he really liked being asked to take part. Willie had a ball in the studio, and of course, he’s just an exquisite singer. We dragged him into songwriting and he helped us with all aspects of the recording. We wanted him to be a partner.”
Musician/producer and Orchestra member Larry Batiste was a vital asset and extremely important to all the songwriting and horn arrangements on the release, and as a musical conductor to the three back-round singers. Tony, Anthony and Larry wrote all the exceptional horn charts for the project.
At present, Stockton, CA-based singer Marcel Smith newly fronts the band. “I saw him and we loved him. Marcel is into exactly what we do.” Smith had grown up singing gospel and his chief influence is the legendary Sam Cooke. Paule espouses, “We’re a match made in heaven. It’s a hard thing to do to replace Willie, but Marcel’s a fantastic, wonderful singer.”
Marcel is “over the moon about singing with the group, and we’ve started making plans to perform (pandemic allowing) at the Umbria (Italy) Jazz, Poretta Soul Fest and the Grand Canary Island’s Maspalomas Festival, where over 40,000 people attend every year.”
The Orchestra is currently working on material for Marcel and already have five-songs worth of material ready. They plan on recording a full album’s worth of songs this summer.
Due to the pandemic and extreme social distancing, Paule expresses, “writing by Zoom is kind of hard. Without being in-person and getting a feel from other musicians, where one could pick up a vibe from across the table, being relegated to Zoom is difficult. It’s not the easiest or the best way to collaborate. But we have tons of ideas and happily all of us are getting along great.”
Paule sums up his success and musical reason for being this way, “This the most satisfying band I’ve known. I really feel I’m in my element with a full Orchestra and a great singer. I don’t want to play unless the band has a great singer and a great song. I just love playing the music I love, no extended instrumentals or solos… just a good band backing up a good singer.”
“For me to love music, it has to hit me in the heart on an emotional level. I can listen to great musicians in a great band, but if I’m struck by it only on an intellectual level and don’t really feel it, then it doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. Musically these days (sans pandemic) provide me with the most gratification and it’s what I love most. All of us really love writing songs, and the greatest satisfaction for me is to record and play them with a great singer. I get an extremely special feeling when recording or performing our music. It’s my greatest love.”