Commonly associated with Detroit, the BellRays’ hard-edged R&B/punk-rock fusion echoes the sounds of the late 1960s Motor City music scene. According to lead guitarist Tony Fate, everywhere the band performs, people ask “How are things in Detroit?”
“We don’t know,” Fate answers. “We’re from California.”
The BellRays perform at Headliners Sept. 14.
The connection to Detroit may derive from lead singer Lisa Kekaula. Having toured Europe and America with remaining members of Detroit’s legendary MC5, Kekaula adds an intangible and timeless star quality to the BellRays. Kekaula’s gospel/jazz sensibility, entwined with Fate’s raw rock arrangements, teleports listeners back to the heyday of Detroit sound. Imagine Aretha Franklin performing with Grand Funk Railroad.
Featured on a Nissan Xterra commercial, the BellRay’s hit song “Revolution Get Down” is now a widely known anthem. The band’s latest album also includes bassist Bob Vennum’s song, “Detroit Breakdown,” describing the band’s first visit to Detroit. Vennum’s lyrics, “Motown, Schmotown ain’t nothing left” and “Do you live here everyday of your life/In a burned out war zone /Just like Beirut/Man it hurts my eyes,” depict the remains of the once-great music city.
“Everybody kept talking about what a great rock ‘n’ roll Mecca Detroit was. Everyone said, ‘You guys are going to be so huge there. They’re gonna love you. It’s the purest rock ‘n’ roll town you’ll ever see.’ Then we go there and it wasn’t anything like that,” Fate said. “There’s good people there, but it isn’t anything like what people think it is. It’s not 1969 anymore.”
While the BellRays await the rebirth Detroit rock city, the band has enjoyed much critical acclaim in the rest of America and abroad. Their wild live performances have earned them former touring spots with notable acts such as the Pixies.
“We got to play some really large places and play for some crowds that probably didn’t know who we were,” Fate said. “But that expands your audience. Audiences get kinda parochial sometime. Speed metal people only want to hear speed metal. The reggae people only want to hear reggae. We tend to draw in the people who want to hear a variety.
“What people appreciate about us is our willingness to take chances. It could be a train wreck or the greatest thing you’ve ever heard. We get people watching the show from age 18 to those in their 50s and 60s. More than once, we’ve had older people come up to us and say, ‘Man, I saw The Who in 1970, and I’ve seen Jimi Hendrix. I had given up on music until I heard you guys.’
“That’s a really big compliment,” Fate said. “You want to live up to that. I want to be at least that good.”
ON THE WEB: www.thebellrays.com