2017 brings Sugar Ray and the Bluetones close to playing their distinctive brand of Blues for 40 years. In 2016 the band was nominated by the Blues Foundation/Blues Music Awards in Memphis, TN for Blues Band of the Year, and band members Monster Mike Welch, Anthony Geraci, and Michael “Mudcat” Ward each received a nomination on their respective instruments. This brings a total of 26 BMA nominations garnered by the Bluetones and its members as well as seven Grammy nominations bestowed on Bluetones members.
-The original line-up of Sugar Ray Norcia, Anthony Geraci, Michael “Mudcat” Ward, Neil Gouvin and then guitarist Ronnie Horvath (who subsequently changed his name to Ronnie Earl) was dominant in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s in the New England area, (where they were the House Band at the legendary Speakeasy Café in Cambridge, MA) New York City, Washington, D.C., throughout Virginia and a long road trip to Chicago where they played at Theresa’s Lounge on the South Side with Junior Wells. The band recorded two records with Chicago harmonica giant Big Walter Horton and toured as the backing band for blues legends Otis Rush, Big Joe Turner, J.B. Hutto, Sunnyland Slim, Hubert Sumlin, Roosevelt Sykes and many more. After Mr. Earl left to join Roomful of Blues, a relatively unknown guitarist joined the Bluetones–Doug “Kid” Bangham~”Kid” coming from the band members as they didn’t even know his name at the time! The Bluetones traveled to California and back, and were one of this generation’s first blues bands to tour Europe, as early as 1980. Bangham left to take the place of Jimmy Vaughan in the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Sugar Ray also joined Roomful of Blues in the 1990’s for seven strong years of touring and recording.
-In 2012 Sugar Ray and the Bluetones were inducted into Rhode Islands Music Hall of Fame.Sugar Ray Norcia has been the driving force behind the Bluetones since its inception and he is considered one of this generations most powerful blues vocalist, harmonica players and songwriters.
Three time Grammy nominated Sugar Ray Norcia has received a total of twenty two Blues Music Award nominations including winning two Blues Music Awards in 2014. Sugar Ray has been on over sixty recordings with the likes of Roomful of Blues, J. Geils, Michelle Willson, Otis Grand, Pinetop Perkins and he is a featured vocalist on the two critically acclaimed Knickerbocker All-Stars recordings. In 2016 Sugar Ray and his band The Bluetones released a CD on Severn Records called “Seeing Is Believing”. For that CD Sugar Ray was nominated for an unprecedented seven 2017 Blues Music Awards including Traditional Blues Male Artist and B.B. King Entertainer of the year.
Newest Bluetone member….. guitarist Little Charlie Baty !
Charlie Baty was born in Alabama in 1953, moved to California at the age of 8, and began playing harmonica at the age of 12. Charlie soon formed his own blues band and began to perform at high school and community events. He soon also picked up guitar and eventually became intrigued with blues and jazz guitar. By the age of 18, while attending UC Berkeley, Charlie was performing in Bay Area blues clubs and happened to meet Rick Estrin through a mutual friend—harmonica player, Gary Smith. A few years later (in 1976), Rick Estrin telephoned Charlie and suggested forming a musical union and ‘Little Charlie & the Nightcats’ was born. Charlie switched from harmonica to guitar and Rick took over the singing and harmonica playing. During the early years of the Nightcats, Charlie & Rick fronted house bands at the Sacramento Blues Festival and University of Oregon Blues Festival, appeared in many regional festivals, and slowly developed a loyal following. In these early years ‘Little Charlie and the Nightcats’ backed up Big Mama Thornton, Tiny Powell, Charles Brown, Sonny Rhodes, Albert Collins, Floyd Dixon, John Lee Hooker, Gatemouth Brown, Pee Wee Crayton, in addition to performing their own shows at festivals. In 1982 the band recorded its first record, a 45 of a Rick Estrin original ‘Homely Girl’ backed with ‘Run Me Down’. Little Charlie’s guitar playing was recognized by Robert Cray in an early interview he did with Rolling Stone Magazine, and eventually the band signed with Alligator Records and released ‘All the Way Crazy’ in 1987. Charlie Baty has continued to grow as a guitarist, playing blues, jazz, western swing, and other types of music and combining these styles to form a unique voice. Charlie has recorded 10 records with Alligator, 3 records with John Hammond on Point Blank (all 3 nominated for Grammies), and appeared as a guest on records by Joe Louis Walker, Kid Ramos, J.W. Jones, Mark Hummel and others. In 2008, Little Charlie decided to leave the Nightcats (which continues on as Rick Estrin and the Nightcats) to pursue other musical interests, such as gypsy jazz, traditional jazz, and Brazilian choro music. Little Charlie abandoned retirement to play blues with harp player Mark Hummel as a special guest guitarist, recording a live CD –Remembering Little Walter – on the Blind Pig label. This CD features Charlie Musselwhite, Billy Boy Arnold, and other notable blues harp players performing songs recorded by the late Little Walter. The Remember Little Walter CD was nominated for a Grammy and won two Blues Music Awards – Best Blues Record of the Year and Best Traditional Record of the Year. Little Charlie toured with Texas-based guitarist Anson Funderburgh and Mark Hummel in a format called the Golden State/Lone Star Revue for several years from late 2012 until late 2016 and recorded 2 CDs with this project on the Electro Fi label. Golden State/Lone Star Revue has been nominated for blues band of the year in 2016 by the Blues Music Awards and their latest record was nominated for Traditional Blues Record of the Year. Little Charlie Baty decided to leave this combo at the end of 2016 and concentrate on other projects, including his Organ Grinder swing project. His new release on the Eller Soul label, Skronky Tonk, has received critical acclaim and earned an impressive 4 star revue in Down Beat magazine. Little Charlie has recorded 2 CDs with artist Big Harmonica George. Recently, Little Charlie has signed on to tour with Sugar Ray and the Blue Tones. Additionally, Little Charlie has performed many times with Canadian guitar star J. W. Jones, jazz vocalist and pianist Dawn Lambeth, and continues to pursue his interests in gypsy jazz by heading up the Little Charlie Caravan. He continues to develop and define his guitar style and his many influences have resulted in a truly unique voice in the music world.
-Bassist “Mudcat” Ward toured and recorded with J. Geils, Jimmy Rogers, Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, and Rockabilly Legend Sleepy LaBeef. His recording with Hubert Sumlin also included Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Levon Helm, part of Ward’s over fifty recordings. He’s also an accomplished Author-Ellison “Tarzan” Brown: The Narragansett Indian That Twice Won the Boston Marathon (Ward) McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.
-Drummer Neil Gouvin has been with Sugar Ray since they were in Jr. High School together, and graces the drum kit on every Bluetones recording. He has also been featured on a cd with John Hammond Jr. called Found True Love (Virgin) that was nominated for a Grammy, and has made multiple recordings with Otis Grand, Joe Houston, and others.