The seeds for the live record “Bill Toms and Hard Rain Featuring the Soulville Horns Live” were actually planted 14 years ago. It was then that Bill Toms decided to step away from his role as the lead guitarist of Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers after 19 years and make his “side” band, Hard Rain, his main focus. A problem arose however.
In 2005 four members of Hard Rain were also in The Houserockers leaving Toms to find a new drummer, keyboardist, and bass player. With the increased Hard Rain activity, this situation became problematic. The band was very much in flux.
Bill experimented with several band members. He played solo and duo gigs. A particularly interesting guitar and sax duo configuration toured Europe. Bill released the diverse solo record “Spirits, Chaos, and a Troubadour Soul” which featured numerous performers and three different drummers. One of which was a familiar face.
Guitarist Tom Breiding, Saxophonist Phil Brontz, and percussionist Bernie Herr remained from the last Hard Rain record “The West End Kid.” The new drummer ended up being the old percussionist Bernie Herr. There was a slight problem . Well ok… several.
To begin with Bernie had 25 years experience playing drums, just not in the previous 20. After beginning his career as a drummer, he had focused exclusively on percussion for the previous 20 years. Another problem, aside from some pretty substantial rust, was that Bernie didn’t have any drums. Also Bernie’s playing style was a large departure from his Hard Rain predecessor, Joffo Simmons.
Undeterred at a time in his life when many are retired (Bernie in fact WAS retired) he bought drums, retaught himself, and with the determination of a young man, proved himself over again. After all, this was the first white man to play the Apollo Theater. The results changed the band’s sound and the band member’s lives.
Bernie picked up where he had left off and was soon wowing people with his playing. He even got some love in the press here.
The band settled in with Steve Binsberger aka Sudden Steve on keys (Keystone Rhythm Band, 8th Street Rox, Jill West and Blues Attack) and Scooter Tambalinas at the outset then Tommy Valentine (Glen Pavone, Billy Price Band) on bass. The efforts of the band were captured on the live record “Live at Moondogs: Another Moonlight Mystery.” Something was missing however. Songs THIS version of the band could call their own.
Toms continued writing in his harder rock blues based style that characterized his first four records and work with Grushecky. He was also exploring his first love in the r&b/soul/Motown/Stax sound. Initially this was in covers the band performed such as “Shake and Fingerpop’, “Pack Fair and Square”, and “I Can Only Give You Everything”. Spirits… had contained some soul type tunes in The Good Life and Revelation Shuffle.
As Bill began to write new songs he found Bernie (and the rest of the band) really excelled on rhythm oriented songs. “Bernie has a feel few if any other drummers possess. If you need something groove based or brushes on the snare – he will blow your mind.” In addition Sudden Steve and Tommy Valentine came from diverse backgrounds but both had spent time with the king of Blue Eyed Soul Billy Price.
So the band, along with renowned producers Rick Witkowski and Wil Kimbrogh began work on the next phase Bill’s Career. Rick and up and coming singer/songwriter Wil Kondrich joined them on the new record. They just needed a little more soul. Enter the Soulville Horns.
Bill had always like horns and wanted to sing in front of them. I can remember when we went to see a horns band at the old Cefalos while he was still in the Houserockers. He said to me in between songs, “some day, some day I will have that.”
The Soulville Horns came on board for the record Memphis in 2011. They became a more permanent fixture starting with “Deep in The Shadows” in 2015 and “Good For My Soul” in 2017. Joining Phil Brontz on sax are Stephen Graham on trombone and finally George Arner on trumpet.
The songs became more in the soul or classic R and B vein. Binsberger also stepped up as a co-songwriter on many songs, including two on the live record. Bill had found his sound and voice and also a much larger audience.
Hard Rain has moved from a Pittsburgh band to national with successful shows in Baltimore, DC, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Youngstown, Columbus, West Virginia, North Carolina, New York City, New Jersey, and Johnstown. He also stages an Italian tour every year that routinely sells out the entire run.
“I wouldn’t have thought about going in this direction without Bernie. The Memphis trilogy (these three records) are based on Bernie’s drum playing.”
This live record wraps up this era of Bill’s music. They have tour dates supporting the record for the rest of the year and into next year. Then he will get into the next era.
If he knows what it is, he wasn’t telling me. For now Bill is enjoying the moment. “Hey nothing lasts forever. We’re getting up there. Will this band be around in 10 years when some of us are in our 80’s? I wanted to capture this band live. We’ve really got this down, and they’re really really good.”
The record release celebration will begin this Friday AM at 9:00 with an appearance on The DVE Morning show. This will be followed by a return to where the record was recorded Club Cafe on Saturday night. As of this writing there are tickets still available. I would recommend buying immediately as it will most certainly sell out. You can find them here. You don’t wanna be shut out as I was for the source show last year (don’t worry I sneaked in). There it is – my Peak of The Week