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New York’s Crow Party: Barebones blues at its best

article by Julie Canepa
photography by Laura Carbone

Crow Party’s post-parade Winter Carnival gig at The Waterhole in Saranac Lake has an energy befitting these blues purists’ approach to music: raw, intense and not watered down for the faint of heart. Guitar player Russ Bailey, bassist Franz Pope and drummer Matt Rabideau are quickly carving out a niche as “the” area straight-from-the-roots blues band.

While the band is chomping at the bit to hit larger venues and reach more blues lovers, they realize they have to get in fighting form for the big gigs. “You have to go to the gym first to get in shape for playing the large venues,” says Bailey.

Bailey alternates between a host of vintage guitars, including a 1964 Silvertone twin pick-up and a 1959 Stella, tuned to open C- classic blues! Pope plays a 1979 Rickenbacker bass, with an Ampeg amp of the same era that Pope calls “the daddy of all bass amps”. Not to be left out, Rabideau plays world-class shuffles on a 1965 Ludwig drum kit in retro color: Champagne Sparkle.

Crow Party’s members have diverse musical backgrounds. Bailey fronted a family band, The Bailey Bros., in the North Country from the late ‘80s to 2001. They were a hit locally, with their blend of Texas style swing, and toured extensively out west. “We literally saw the end of the roadhouse during those years,” recalls Bailey. Their style morphed when they took on a new drummer, taking them in a psychedelic rock direction.

Pope grew up near Bailey in Essex, NY, and ran sound for The Bailey Bros. back in the day. “That’s where I was exposed to the subtleties of blues playing,” said Pope. He played with the Redneck Aliens and a heavy metal cover band before finding a common ground with his current Crow Party bandmates. “There is a certain feel in blues music that is missing these days. We are trying to go back to where it came from.”

Drummer Matt Rabideau, a Plattsburgh native, considered himself a rock and roll drummer, having spent some overlapping time in the Redneck Aliens with bassist Pope, and playing in a cover band called Hazin’ Jane. Rabideau had just begun to discover the intricacies of jazz drumming when he joined forces with Bailey and Pope. “The jazz drumming I was studying was so transferrable to blues shuffles; they fit together like puzzle pieces,” says Rabideau.

Russ Bailey | Crow Party

Crow Party members are like-minded in their approach to the blues. “I am happy that we are limiting ourselves with equipment and songs,” says Bailey. “We are letting the music teach us how to play.”

The purity the band strives for in its playing becomes clear when discussions turn to the possibility of adding a keyboard player. “We are trying to keep things honest. Adding another member would change the space, the air, between the band members,” says Bailey. Rabideau is striving to find his voice within the framework of the blues shuffles he is playing. “I feel like a historian of 120 years of pure blues. I see the drum set as an American tradition.” Bassist Pope adds, “I’m spoiled to be playing music with the people that I play with. We are truly getting back to our ’roots’.”

Don’t mistake the striving for blues purity for a wish to have lived in bygone days. “I am catching up on music I missed while I was doing other things. I play Smashing Pumpkins and Rage Against the Machine on 10 in my van,” says Bailey. “It’s not about the notes, it’s about what these guys are doing musically. It all fits together.”

The band plans to record this spring, and of course the fruits of their labor will be released on vinyl.

As Crow Party flexes their blues muscles, audiences will definitely get the whole picture: They are torch bearers of the blues tradition with a deep love of music in all its forms, hoping to carry it forward like those that came before them.


video & photography by Laura Carbone


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