Live in the Clubs: Western themes led to band’s name

The name Black John Wayne has finally found the right band to match it.

The name Black John Wayne has finally found the right band to match it.

It first surfaced when Ralph Renna started a band with former Clay People guitarist Mike Guzzardi, which eventually came to be known as Addicted to Pain. Guzzardi first thought of Black John Wayne in reference to late ’60s football player Jim Brown, who became an actor in Western films and earned the nickname “The Black John Wayne.”

The name didn’t stick for that band, and Renna eventually left. In late 2008, he began singing for a new band featuring his former Last Call bandmate Brad Simon on drums, bassist Ed Woodka, and guitarists and brothers Mike and Brian Luciano. Although it wasn’t intended, the band’s gravitation toward Western themes in their songwriting early on fit the Black John Wayne idea.

Titles fit name

“When we started playing, we immediately named one of the songs ‘Pistol Whipped,’ and the next song ‘I am Fear,’ ” Renna said. “Then we decided on the name of the band, Black John Wayne. And I didn’t necessarily want to focus on cowboys and Indians, but it does touch down on that — all the songs relate to it. ‘Dead Man’s Dance,’ ‘Wrong Arm of the Law,’ ‘Silver Badge’ . . . they all kind of fall under the them of Black John Wayne, the main theme of which is, every hero has its dark side.”

Black John Wayne

with Murderer’s Row

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Where: Villa Valenti Pub, 729 Pawling Ave., Troy

How Much: $5

More Info: 326-9500

Then, of course, there’s also Renna’s nightmares.

“Once in a while I have these dreams where these demonic-type cowboy outlaws are chaining me up, dragging me around, trying to get me to do wrong,” he said. “The name made me immediately think of these nightmares.”

After three years of steady performing in the Capital Region and beyond, the band has just revealed its debut album, “Serenade of the Black and Blues.” Lately, the group has been focusing its energy on playing larger shows and festivals — including an opening slot for Danish metal band Volbeat at Northern Lights on April 23 — but will be in their Troy hometown for a smaller gig this Saturday at Villa Valenti Pub alongside Murderer’s Row.

“We’re playing one for friends and family who don’t get to come out to the regular shows,” Renna said. “We’re really excited about playing something that small.”

He is perhaps best known to Capital Region music fans as the man behind Capital Underground Radio and the Capital Underground Live shows at Dublin Underground and various other area venues. But alongside promoting local music, he’s also a veteran musician of 20-plus years.

The rest of Black John Wayne’s members are also mainstays of the Troy hardcore scene, with a combined resume including the bands Execution Style, Politics of Contraband, Conflict of Interest and blues band Joanne and the Burnouts, among others.

Seeking a difference

The project began with an idea to do something different musically. The band mixes brutal hardcore with classic rock and blues influences on “Serenade of the Black and Blues.” Songs such as “Rattlesnake Blood,” the album’s first single and video, reveal a more melodic vocal style from Renna married to the Lucianos’ fierce riffing, while “Dirty Bible” is a full-fledged acoustic blues dirge.

“I think it’s that our tastes are changing as we get older,” Renna said. “I still listen to hardcore and metal a lot, and I dig bands from the hardcore scene, but I also dig bands that have a ’70s feel to it, like Clutch, Kyuss. I kind of always liked the way these bands incorporated the ’70s sound. And I’m a huge Sabbath and Zeppelin fan, period, on top of that.”

Four of the album’s 12 songs were recorded as a demo in 2009, with the band giving away 3,000 copies to fans. The remaining songs were tracked this past winter at North Sea Production Company in Albany. The album also incorporates piano by La Pissior and violin from Cassandra Pratt, along with backing vocals from Pratt, blues-folk artist Ashley Pond and Donna Marie Floyd Tritico. “You get those three and it kind of made it sound like, even a Motown tinge to it,” Renna said.

Varying lengths

Most of the songs on the album are tightly controlled bursts, with the longest song just breaking the six-minute mark. Live, the band will stretch out performances into full-blown jams.

“Even if a song is five minutes on the CD, we can jam on it for 11 minutes if we want,” Renna said. “The songs are controlled by certain guitar riffs, drum beats, vocals — an instrument or voice controls how long the song can go.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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