Nowadays the “Roots” music tent is awful big. And there’s a whole mess of bands scrapping for a spot under it. Old time string bands. Old time country bands. Jug bands. Honky Tonk bands. ‘Grass’ bands of all varieties: Blue, New, Jam, etc.
Then there’s the BlackWilloughbys. A band that doesn’t quite fit into any of the usual slots. Their repertoire is what the old folks call a ‘veritable melting pot’ of styles: Piedmont rags, classic Honky Tonk, New Orleans swing, Delta blues, Proto-Country, Vaudeville hokum, Hill country vamps – even Rockabilly, Rock ‘n Roll and the odd modern Pop tune. It’s unclear whether this versatility is caused by a serious attention deficit disorder or gobs of showoff-y-ness. Simply put: the Willoughbys can’t be bothered with playing just one genre.
Sprouted from a few ostensibly ‘old time’ jam sessions and general music-nerding in early 2010, the BlackWilloughbys quickly took shape as a four-piece band: Rick Arrow (guitar, vocals), Tim McNulty (vocals, guitar) Bob Kessler (harmonica, clarinet) and Tommy Lowery (percussion). Early gigs found the boys opening for local bluegrass stalwarts Sexfist (Henhouse Prowlers) and country legend Crystal Gayle. After locking down regular gigs at posh local establishments, the Willoughbys figured they needed a “bigger” sound. Enter Jesse Woelfel, on the biggest instrument he could find: the upright bass. His Rockabilly rhythms and slick hairdo propelled the band to greater artistic (and stylistic) heights. With a fifth Willoughby on the roster, the band was then poised to do things that are done when bands are poised.
The individual members of the band are veterans of Chicago’s many “scenes”, and have spread their respective musical seeds in venues large and small, including: Soldier Field, the Park West, Martyr’s, Fitzgerald’s, Honky Tonk BBQ, The Hideout, Uncommon Ground, The Whistler, Horseshoe Lounge, The California Clipper and Duke’s Hideaway.
The BlackWilloughbys are:
Rick Arrow – guitar, tiple & vocals
Tim McNulty – vocals & guitar
Jesse Woelfel – bass
Bob Kessler – harmonica & clarinet
Tommy Lowery – drums & percussion