The California Honeydrops Play Music with Spirit
● By Phil Reser
Crowd PleasersDecember 2014
By Phil Reser
The California Honeydrops, an Oakland-based band, got their start playing for audiences commuting by train.
The band has come a long way since vocalist, guitarist and trumpeter Lech Wierzynski and drummer and washboard strummer Ben Malament started busking in an Oakland BART station, but the band has stayed true to that organic, street-level feel.
Says Wierzynski: “I look at the time we spent playing in the train stations as the most important part of building the foundation for the music we are performing and recording today. It’s important to tap into the good spirit of music along with playing it well.”
The band likes to get off stage and perform close to audiences. “We’re very rooted in the collective experience, the street performing and New Orleans style of presentation,” he says. “Or even a church experience, where everybody is there singing together. And in terms of what we play, you can hear a little bit of everything that we like, which ranges from Ray Charles to Louie Armstrong, Sly and the Family Stone to Robert Johnson. It goes all over the place and I think that what brings it all together is that we focus on having a special experience with each crowd we play for.”
The son of Polish political refugees who was raised in Chicago and Washington, D.C., Wierzynski was exposed to a wide range of musical influences.
“When my dad was growing up in communist Poland in the ‘40s and ‘50s, old American music was illegal but very cool,” he says. “He passed on the love of old stuff to me. What got me playing the trumpet was my dad’s love of the music of Louie Armstrong. When I got the choice of choosing an instrument in elementary school, it was foremost on my mind. The trumpet is loud and has a lot of vocal quality. I can really make it talk, which continues to make it fun to play.”
He later had to assimilate into modern American society, he says. “I loved all the popular stuff on the radio, especially hip-hop and R&B,” he says. “Initially, it was just a way of fitting into things, however, it broadened into a love of music in general.”
When Wierzynski was ready to combine all his influences into one cohesive sound, he formed the California Honeydrops with the additions of Johnny Bones on tenor sax and clarinet, Lorenzo Loera on keyboards and Beau Bradbury on bass. They’ve built a powerful full-band sound to support his songwriting and vocals.
“We started out recording a homemade demo with a piano player that I knew from doing R&B and soul gigs,” explains Wierzynski. “We brought him in and recorded this thing, got a gig at a pizza place which funded one of our albums through a fundraiser. That got us launched to another level and we kept growing. We went from tub bass to acoustic bass to electric and acoustic to mostly electric. The sound has evolved into a very original thing that I don’t hear any other bands doing right now.”
Gathering steam, the Honeydrops have taken their sound all over Europe, to featured slots at such premiere festivals as Monterey Jazz and High Sierra, along with performances supporting B.B. King, Dr. John, Buddy Guy and Allen Toussaint.
“We just sold out a couple of shows at the Fillmore in San Francisco, which is really an exciting milestone for us:
Having all of our Bay Area fans together, who have come to so many of our smaller shows over the years, showing up in one historical venue like that one. It was a celebration of our success over the last few years with folks that love our music so much.”
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