Telluride Blues & Brews: California Honeydrops

Telluride Blues & Brews: California Honeydrops

The California Honeydrops are featured Saturday, September 15, 2:40 p.m. at the 25th annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival. Go here for an event overview. Go here for more on the weekend.

Scroll down to listen to a podcast with lead singer Lech Wierzynski (pronounced Via-zin-ski).

California Honeydrops

In addition to rocking out on stage as a big time party band, from time to time they offer witty banter, sex advice too.

We are talking about the California Honeydrops, a group of skilled veteran musicians based in Oakland, California, who are hard to put in a box. At live shows and in their recordings, they are known to serve up a spicy stew of New Orleans jazz, Delta blues, Bay Area R&B, Southern soul, and funk.

The band has taken their party around the world, playing festivals of all kinds and touring widely across North America, Europe and Australia – and now Telluride, appearing on the Main Stage of Telluride Blues & Brews on Saturday, September 15, 2:40 – 3:40 p.m.

In 2016 and 2017 the Honeydrops were honored to support Bonnie Raitt on her North America release tour. In the past, they have been privileged to support the likes of B.B. King, Allen Toussaint, Buddy Guy, and Dr. John.

Whether in those high-profile performances or in more intimate venues where the band itself can leave the stage and get down on the dance floor, the California Honeydrops’ shared vision and purpose remain: to make the audience dance and sing.

In fact, lead singer Lech Wierzynski sees music as an interactive noun that rhymes with healing because music creates positive vibes in our lives.

Positive and smokin’ hot.

“Hailing from Oakland, The California Honeydrops brought the heat — and the sexual tension — to a full house on Sunday evening at the Ogden Theater. On their Facebook page, the Honeydrops claim to not “just play music — they throw parties,” and that’s exactly what they did for show-goers on Sunday. The insurmountable energy brought to the stage from the moment the five-piece band stepped onto the stage could be felt throughout all four corners of the venue, and literally reverberated through the crowd for what resulted in an incredible night.

“The high-level energy that the band brought to the stage was lead by lead vocalist, guitarist and trumpeter Lech Wierzynski. The guy’s energy, far from PG, orchestrated one hell of a sexy dance party, and the crowd was getting down. The Honeydrops’ music is known for one common theme — love. Whether you were at the show with your friends or your honey, everyone was feeling the love Sunday night,” raved 303 Magazine, about a recent Denver show.

The Honeydrops have come a long way since guitarist and trumpeter Wierzynkski and drummer Ben Malament started busking in an Oakland subway station, but the band has stayed true to that street-level feel.

Lech Wierznyski of the California Honeydrops.

Born in Warsaw, Poland, Wierzynski was just three years old when he immigrated to the United States with his parents. At Oberlin College in Ohio, he received an ethnomusicology degree in early African-American music. After graduation, Wierzynski moved to Oakland and began his career as a full-time musician.

Listening to Wierzynski sing, his roots and the fact he was raised by Polish political refugees, might come as a surprise.

Wierzynski first learned his vocal stylings from contraband American recordings of Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and Louis Armstrong; and later at Oberlin and on the club circuit in Oakland.

With the additions of Johnny Bones on tenor sax and clarinet, Lorenzo Loera on keyboards, and Beau Bradbury on bass, The California Honeydrops built a powerful full-band sound to support Wierzynski’s vocal stylings.

More like parties than traditional concerts, Honeydrop shows feature extensive off-stage jamming and crowd interaction:

“The whole point is to erase the boundaries between the crowd and us,” Wierzynski says. “We don’t make set lists. We want requests. We want crowd involvement, to make people become apart of the whole thing by dancing along, singing, picking the songs and generally coming out of their shells.”

The California Honeydrops’ latest release is their 7th studio album and first-ever double album, Call It Home: Vol. 1 & 2. Like their live shows, it has garnered raves:

“This Bay Area ensemble calls on the sounds of classic soul and funk in ‘Call It Home,’ evoking the greasy rumble of Booker T and the MGs in the opening bars before channeling the spiritual ecstasy of Sly and the Family Stone in the soaring choruses. The opening track and title song from their forthcoming two-part album Call It Home: Vol. 1 & 2, ‘Call It Home”’ features some sublimely gritty ad libs from the iconic Bonnie Raitt, a pretty solid endorsement of the group’s bona fides,” wrote Rolling Stone in May.

“They might as well call themselves the Big Easy Laidbacks. They market themselves as a Bay Area band, but over the course of seven albums, the California Honeydrops have crafted an easy listening sound that marries the bounce and strut of the Big Easy with the soul of Memphis and Muscle Shoals.

“The quintet honed their sound busking in the streets of the Bay area, but their unique sound got them slots touring with Dr. John and Allen Toussaint as well as blues icon B.B. King. The group spent most of the past year opening for Bonnie Raitt, who guests on the title cut, adding a backing vocal to the band’s smooth three part harmony. The title cut sounds like a rowdy street parade second-lining back from a jazz funeral after they’ve laid the body down and are celebrating with high-steppin’ vigor.

“Lead singer Lech Wierzynski’s vocal style wanders from folkie to soul man to laid back bloozer, able to cover smooth jazz as well on the Ray Charles-toned “Coming Around.” But Wierzynski doesn’t emulate Charles’ husky soulful croak, instead working in a higher register as more of crooner on the tune, which he composed and arranged as he did with all the songs on the record….,” raved No Depression in April.

To learn more, check out my podcast with Lech.

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