LAKE PLACID – Lake Placid is known for many things. One of them is not blistering, muscle-bound blues. That may soon change.
Amongst the caladiums, murals and beautiful lakes, lies the abode of an Americana singer/songwriter and bad, bad bluesman, Ray “Rafer John” Cerbone. He and his lovely wife, Gia, are nestled comfortably in the sweet country life, taking in good fishing, beautiful sunsets, and some peace and tranquility.
A far cry, and perhaps a necessary juxtaposition to recording studios, loud, rumbling stage shows and life on the road. Being a fresh, new creative force in the world of hard hitting blues rock is perhaps the “ying” to the country life “yang.”
Cerbone goes by the name “Rafer John” when performing with his band, The Apocalypse Blues Revue (ABR). When performing as a solo Americana act you will know him as Ray Cerbone. In this way he tries to keep the two careers separate and identifiable.
As Cerbone sat in his home studio, he discussed almost everything under the sun. Mostly talking of his killer band and their new CD.
You should first know that Apocalypse Blues Revue is made up of Brain Carpenter on bass guitar, Shannon Larkin on drums, Tony Rombola, guitars and “Rafer John” on vocals and acoustic guitar. Larkin and Rombolo are also members of platinum-selling rock band, Godsmack, who are currently on tour in support of their own new CD.
“The thing right from the beginning was, it was understood that we weren’t putting this band together to work bars and make pennies,” reflected Cerbone. “We were putting this band together for the long haul. To be a band that is signed and makes records. We were gonna be worldwide. So that’s what we did. That kind of investment takes time.” The band’s investment, timewise, has been approximately six years to this point.
“We wanted to be big on the blues charts, which, when we first got released, we were. We got all the way to No. 2. The only guy we couldn’t get ahead of was Joe Bonamassa, and it was killing us,” the singer says with a laugh. “On our first release (self titled) we were right up there.”
The new CD, “The Shape Of Blues To Come,” was released July 20 on Provouge Records and it’s “right up there” as well. Already it’s ranked No.2 on iTunes Top 40 Blues Chart behind the legendary Buddy Guy.
Blues Magazine (www.bluesmagazine.com) had this to say about the new release: “‘The Shape Of Blues To Come’ is that rarest of beasts, a second album that is not just better than their first, but one that defines what the band is at this point, and one that points directly to where the band is going. This is a band that will be making music for years to come.”
“Anything we do, has to be ABR,” continues Cerbone. “We found the direction, and I’m glad. Too many bands come out with something and then they go astray and they lose what they had. It’s gone. Always carry your essence.”
At first the record label and others weren’t sure what to do with ABR. They are not a band that easily fits into any one pigeonhole.
“People weren’t sure,” said Cerbone. “They’d hear our blues in a blues club and they’d go, ‘well I don’t know if they’re really blues’ — you know, like B.B. King. Then they were booking us in metal clubs because Shannon and Tony were from Godsmack. So they were booking us as ‘Godsmack guys.’ We’re not. So we weren’t filling the house that way. It was all wrong.
“Now with the second album, both the record company and the management see the other side, see what ABR really is. ABR’s got it’s own thing. We’ve got our own sound. It’s like nothing else that’s out there. It’s a piece of this, a piece of that and it comes in and we add our own ingredients. What comes out the other end is us. We’ve got our own thing and I like that. I think we should stay on track.”
How does a guy in Lake Placid end up in a band with internationally known, hugely successful rock stars, one might wonder?
“Shannon and I got introduced by a mutual friend,” recalls Cerbone. “The mutual friend’s brother, Jay, played in a band with Shannon, Wrathchild America. So anyway, Jay’s brother, Andy and I were good friends. I had a motorcycle built by Andy’s shop. I used to work at Andy’s shop for awhile up in New York. Andy and I were very good friends.
“I moved down here, I was flying Andy down to work on my motorcycle. Plus he was gonna have a weekend. I said,’I’m gonna pay your airfare, put you up in my house. The rest is on you.’ He rented a motorcycle, we went out, he had fun. We were in kind of a biker bar, and Jay was there, Andy and myself. Shannon came striding in.
“I got introduced, Shannon and I kinda hit it off. The next day we all went riding. We ended up in a place, The Pink Flamingo, or something down here. We had shrimp and beers and I got talking to Shannon. To me, because I wasn’t a big Godsmack fan — I didn’t even know who he was — he was just Shannon. He was a guy with a Harley who plays drums. We hit it off that way. We became friendly. We also realized we were both writers.
“He came to my house with his wife and his daughter and we had Italian food,” Cerbone recalls. “We ate, and then he saw the guitar. He says, ‘you gotta play something for me.’ That’s when everything changed. To me that was a very scary moment. I hadn’t really been playing much and he wanted to hear something I wrote. I played him a song and he liked my voice, he said, ‘it’s not my kind of music but I like your voice.’
“A few weeks after that he called me up and said he needed somebody to sing a blues song. I suggested that I had some friends that could do that and he suggested that I come down and do it. And I did and the rest is now history.”
When he went in to do the song,“I did not know Tony. I walked into that room, and that made it even more scary. See, now it wasn’t Shannon, the guy I knew when we’d talk families and life problems. Now it was Shannon Larkin, the drummer from Godsmack, and Tony Rombola, the guitar player from Godsmack.
“These are musicians on a different level. I was an everyday Americana guitar picker, singing songs, writing Americana music. Suddenly I’m in a room with two guys who’ve got gold and platinum records all over the walls. I’m in that room looking at the records and I’m going, ‘nah, this isn’t real.’
“Tony was Tony,” the tunesmith continues. “I thought he was just being quiet but that’s Tony. He’s shy and very humble. He’s very laid back. He was very nice, he shook my hand, ‘hey, how ya doing’ and that was about it, didn’t say much. But after I sang, he applauded. He was genuinely impressed with what I did. When I came home I was on a cloud.”
On Brian Carpenter, “he was the last guy to join the band,” said Cerbone. ”Shannon met him at some kind of music contest. Shannon was a judge and Brian won it. Shannon said, ‘we need a local bass player and I think I got the guy.’ So Brian came in and he fit almost immediately. It was cool. He’s a great bass player. He’s innovative too.”
As Cerbone sips his camomile tea, talk turns to road life. The music industry is “not friendly. Especially to new bands like we were. You don’t get money offers. You want to tour with a name so you’ve got an audience. When you tour with a name and open for them, you don’t make anything. You make pennies. But it’s the way to go.
“Doing those shows with Kenny Wayne Shepherd, that was great. Opening for Robby Krieger of The Doors – amazing. I got to sit there and talk to Robby Krieger. I shook his hand,” the bluesman recalls. “He’s so innovative it’s amazing. And to watch him play now, unbelievable.
“The people we’ve opened for, it was great,” said Cerbone. “It was a good boost for us and great on our resume. But we’re ready now to get out there and be the guys. Opening for other people is good, it’s just no money. When you’re renting an RV, staying in motels, paying for gas and the A/C in the RV is running steady, you’re burning fuel and it’s expensive. It’s uncomfortable and crowded. You’re right on top of everybody and you’ve really gotta work it to keep smiling and not get on each other’s nerves. It’s tough.”
Coming back to the band, Cerbone said, “All of it is good musicianship, the vibe of it. It’s like the band matured more. The whole thing came up from a very well built, well organized, live band, to the next level of band where we are one, as Shannon puts it. We have come to that.
“We were four guys that worked well together. Now we’re four guys that work as a unit. We’re starting to read each other better and that’s reflected in this record. I think it’s because it’s a little bit more of a journey, this record.
“What we’re gonna be doing (in the future) is not getting away from traditional blues,” the singer envisions. “We’re going to keep our foot in that traditional blues box, firmly planted, and just dance around with the other one.”
Apocalypse Blues Revue will be performing Friday and Saturday, Sept. 7 and 8 at South Street Naples. Showtime is 7 p.m. for both shows.
For more information go to www.southstreetnaples.com or call 239-435-9333
South Street Naples is located at 1410 Pine Ridge Road, Suite 4 in Naples.
For more information on ABR or to purchase their music, go to www.theapocalypsebluesrevue.com.