"What, are we supposed to be lawyers or doctors so people won't say we're a `name' band?" asks nineteen-year-old guitarist Waylon Krieger. "People are going to find out who we are anyway, so it's all in the open from the beginning." Let's get this much out of the way: Less than a year ago Bloodline was formed with singer Aaron Hagar (son of Sammy); bassist Berry Oakley, Jr., (nineteen-year-old son of the Allman Brothers bassist); drummer Erin Davis (21-year-old offspring of Miles); veteran keyboardist Lou Segreti; and guitarist Smokin' Joe Bonamassa, a fifteen-year-old prodigy. From the start the challenge was obvious: Could the band members really put their music first and their names last?
The answer is that the group does, in fact, use its paternal connections, but not to land a record deal. They don't have a record deal (yet). Instead, their fathers' lifestyles served to expose them to music and helped to steer them in the direction of musical careers.
If the name game were so important, how would one explain the recent decision by the band to vote singer Aaron Hagar out? According to Segreti, Hagar was dismissed because he was leaning toward commercial ballads while the rest of Bloodline wanted to stick to the blues.
To hear them tell it, Bloodline is on an almost heroic quest that supersedes the perks of a major-label contract. "We want to bring music back to where it was in the Sixties and Seventies, when you had to have talent to play," claims Smokin' Joe Bonamassa, who wasn't even born until May of 1977. If they are to reach Top 40 popularity, the members say, they will do it with "old style" music. Among many things, that means strictly analog. No synthesizer effects. No overdubs. No drum machines or MIDI. They prefer to get on a stage and play raw, untamed rock and blues with real instruments.
In today's music industry, where most "artists" are conceived of and packaged in the marketing department, Bloodline is a refreshing exception, a group seemingly committed to preserving music that might otherwise remain a memory. Older people remember a time when a drum kit looked like one, and a guitar sounded like a guitar -- when an act's music carried more weight than the members' appearance or the intensiy of the laser show.
Surprisingly, considering most members' upbringings, Bloodline is a band with ears -- none of them reads music. To learn a new trick, they go out and buy the record, a practice Davis and Krieger refer to as "schooling ourselves." They also learn from one another. Smokin' Joe Bonamassa has already fronted a band named after him; and he credits his father, who gave him a guitar at age five, for an early start. The two went on to perform in concert together, a type of encouragement that has led to Bonamassa's already impressive resume. The teenager has traded licks with B.B. King and has appeared with Robert Cray, John Lee Hooker, and Buddy Guy.
While most tenth graders are learning that the square root of four is two, Bonamassa is more interested in 1-4-5 equals the blues. With his custom '61 Stratocaster, he teaches clinics during tours, which generally occur during the summer; the rest of the year he has to attend school himself. Because of that restriction, the other members moved into a Syracuse, New York, house close enough to Smokin' Joe's home to allow for nightly practice sessions. But the residential location forces them to shut down the amps at 8:00 p.m., and the rest of the evening is devoted to typical youthful pursuits -- creative candle melting, going to the mall, munching pizza, staring at MTV, playing Nintendo. Their favorite game is the wildly popular Street Fighter II, after which they reverently named one of their songs.
Oakley, unlike Bonamassa, never had his father around to encourage his musical endeavors. The senior Oakley was killed in a motorcycle accident just before his son was born. But there was a less direct influence. In 1989 young Oakley was invited by Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey Betts to hang out on the legendary band's tour. The Allman troupe told Oakley stories, helping him learn about the father he never knew. Near the end of that road trip, Oakley was allowed to join the Allmans on-stage for one tune each night. After the tour, Oakley accompanied Betts back to his Florida home.
At that point, Oakley recalls, he made a commitment to a musical career. "I couldn't believe it," he says. "There was a room, and in the room was a picture of my dad. Under it was his bass. Dickey handed it to me and said that it was rightfully mine -- with the condition that I would play it." Oakley calls it the "Frankenstein Bass" because it's patched together with pieces of different bass guitars: a 1960 Fender body with a 1950 Guild humbucker pick-up and a 1970 jazz-style neck.
Oakley grew up with Waylon Krieger, and the two played in the Robbie Krieger Band. During that time, the elder Krieger taught Oakley a song called "Light My Fire." "Here I was," Oakley recalls, "learning this song from a man that made it part of music history." Ironically, Waylon Krieger says that his decision to become a guitarist was influenced partly by Oakley's in-the-footsteps activities and partly by the movie Back to the Future. When he saw the climactic scene in which actor Michael J. Fox, as Marty McFly, blows away a high school dance with a pre-Chuck Berry rendering of "Johnny B. Goode," he sat down and learned to play the classic tune. "My father had tried to teach it to me when I was younger," Krieger says. "But I couldn't play it right. At the time, I didn't have much patience."
The last son of the late Miles Davis is not what one might expect from the child of jazz's most prominent figure. He wears a lip ring, jeans, and a flannel shirt. He even played in a speed-metal band, called Grandma's Third Battalion. But, Erin Davis says, if he's not like his father on the outside, he is on the inside. "We both look at music the same way," he says. "We both would never play anything that we didn't believe in."
Bloodline's second-generational situation is an advantage and a gauntlet at the same time. Their names draw attention, but ultimately they must and will be judged on the strength or weakness of their own music. "We have to make it a point to be good," says Oakley. "We have to live up to our last names. I would like to think that Erin's dad and my dad are looking down at us, proud of what we're doing."
BLOODLINE is among the many acts performing at the Riverwalk Blues Festival all weekend at Bubier Park, Las Olas Blvd and Andrews Ave, Ft Lauderdale, 764-1912. Bloodline is scheduled on Friday at 9:30 p.m. Admission is $5.