Sometimes, as a writer, it’s all too easy to fall into the role of the hyper-judgemental music critic. I don’t know if it’s the many bullcrap-spewing lessons we’re force fed in college or the inherent desire to seem more intelligent than we are but there’s always some force that regularly pushes us to shoot mainstream music down in favor of some heady garbage (See: Radiohead).
And for the average music critic there is no lower hanging fruit than a local cover band. Oh yes, dressed in their colorful matching outfits cherry-picking hits from the last four or five decades — these guys are usually easy to write off in a few unkind paragraphs. This was all swimming through my head as I entered Rockbar Theater (formerly The Knitting Factory) on Saturday night to see Reno-based R&B cover band Soul Persuaders. I prepared myself to be underwhelmed.
Geez, was I wrong. It was quickly made apparent that these guys are the real deal — their validity was felt in every thump of the kick drum and chuck of the guitar.
The Soul Persuaders opened up with Rick James’ 1981 hit “Give It To Me Baby” and wasted no time setting the tone for the rest of the night. Guitarist Phil Weaver, bassist Fred Williams, and drummer Les Carter locked in with an air-tight groove. A quick look at their biography reveals why — the three musicians toured for years with Motown legends The Contours and Williams’ and Carter’s history extends even beyond that to playing in The Supersonics together in high school in Detroit.
Lead singer Dr. Lee A. Davis is a gifted singer and superb showman. He sells every word he sings with over-the-top dance moves and hand motions that get the audience to drop their inhibitions and flood the dance floor. Ever the superlative professional; he also had no problem stepping into a backing vocal role as he let revue singers Haaswan DePrince, Barbara Woodard and Margret Wrights take lead duties from time to time.
Haaswan DePrince took over the bandstand with a three-song Prince tribute of “Cream,” “Purple Rain,” and “Kiss.” What he lacked in vocal ability he made up for in performance and owned every inch of the stage. Woodard closed the set with a solid rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”
The house wasn’t packed by any means but the staff was exceedingly friendly and the 35-40 people in attendance were noticeably excited for the show to continue, especially when Davis, looking sharp in a full red and black suit, walked from table to table, thanking everyone for coming between their sets.
After a short break, the band brought out their big gun Margret Wrights. A bonafide powerhouse, Wrights let loose on Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody,” Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit,” and Natalie Cole’s “Inseparable.” Just when I thought she’d laid it all out there, she took a breath and gave the crowd another octave, another decibel, and even more soul. Her masterful command of the songs brought the crowd to a boiling point before Davis brought the set to a close with King Floyd’s oft-overlooked ‘71 hit “Groove Me,” and a jammed out version of “Mustang Sally.” Guitarist Weaver took the reigns of the latter with a couple tastefully crafted solos.
The Soul Persuaders left it all on the stage on Saturday night at downtown Reno’s brand-new Rockbar. Their authenticity shone through, their chops were apparent, and their dedication to soul showmanship kept the audience engaged and dancing. No, there weren’t any obscure literary references in the lyrics or post-modern production techniques in their running through the PA. They were just a hit-playing band, and a rip-roaringly fun one at that.