Like many bands, Albany’s Soul Sky formed almost by accident.
Initially, guitarist Jeremy Walz, formerly of the band Right Coast Soul, was just sitting in with the members of Folding Sky, led by guitarist and vocalist Mark Emanatian. Soon, Right Coast Soul drummer Josh Bloomfield, who had been playing with Walz for over a decade, was also sitting in.
With Folding Sky bassist Tom Dolan still on board, the new band began playing out enough to necessitate a new name. The members meshed the names of their previous bands together, and Soul Sky was born.
“It was like, sit in a couple times, fill in — ‘Do you want to be in a band? Let’s do a gig. I need a drummer,’ ” Walz said, during a recent meeting with Emanatian at McGeary’s in Albany. “And for the past 10 years or so, Josh and I have joked about it, but wherever I go I bring him with me, and wherever he goes he brings me. . . . And Tom was part of Folding Sky, so he and Mark, they’ve known each other for a long, long time, probably since they were kids. It just kind of meshed together really well.”
WHEN: 10 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, 377 River St., Troy
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 308-0401, www.dinosaurbarbque.com
So well, in fact, that it surprised both Emanatian and Walz. Walz, who is also president of the Capital Region Blues Network, and Emanatian, a longtime scene veteran who played with the late blues legend Ernie Williams for 11 years (see Sunday’s Q&A with Emanatian for more on his time with Williams), knew each other prior to this band, but hadn’t played together outside of a few jam sessions. There’s also a generational divide in the band — Walz and Bloomfield are in their mid-30s, while Emanatian and Dolan are in their mid-50s.
“When the four people got together playing this music, it really — for me and I’m hoping for the other three guys — worked for me on a level that I hadn’t had in a really long time with Folding Sky and with some of the other projects I do and the other people I play with,” Emanatian said. “It’s tighter than it should be for the length of time that we’ve been playing. I just think it’s beautiful. And the response that we’ve been getting from audiences that have seen us both play for years in all sorts of different things, it’s been really remarkable.”
In its short time together, Soul Sky has already played as far out as Lake Placid, and is working to get out to New York City, Boston and other Northeast markets. Its next gig is close to home, at familiar haunt Dinosaur Bar-B-Que on Saturday night.
With deep roots in blues, classic rock and jam band music — the band’s influences include the Allman Brothers, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Neil Young, the Grateful Dead, Black Sabbath and even more modern fare like Pearl Jam — the band’s live shows are often unpredictable affairs built around jams.
When the band started, it combined material from both Folding Sky and Right Coast Soul; now the band has a cache of its own original songs, and often band members will bring in songs on a whim at shows, without any prior rehearsals.
“If you have a great song, you can do it differently every night — like when you listen to [Bob] Dylan, and he’s doing four or five different versions over the years of some of those songs,” Emanatian said. “And because there’s four really good improvisors [in this band], the middles of these songs should be able to go wherever they go, because that’s the great thing about music, is the stuff that’s made up on the spot and not repeated over and over again that it sounds like a computer made it. So we’re trying to keep that alive, and because we’re from a bluesy background, they’re a little bit different jams than what a Phish [type] band would do, which comes from a different kind of background.”
For the first time in his career, Walz has been singing lead alongside Emanatian — the two split lead vocal duties nearly down the middle, with Bloomfield providing harmonies as well.
“I think the first gig, Mark probably sang three-quarters of the songs, and I probably sang a quarter,” Walz said. “And I’m pretty sure within two or three gigs he was like, ‘OK, so you’re gonna sing every other song.’ ”
Weighing their options
The band is weighing options for recording. Emanatian, who released four albums with Folding Sky and played on six of Ernie Williams’ albums, isn’t interested in a lengthy recording process with overdubs, instead hoping to capture the band’s freewheeling live sound.
“The four Folding Sky albums, the best one out of them was the one that was done at the Garden Grill — which is now out of business — in Albany, which was a hole-in-the-wall run by music lovers, owned by music lovers,” Emanatian said. “And it just was so good. It just really was so good, compared to the ones — we spent a fortune on one of them in the studio that was, by the end of the six months of doing it, by the end it was mixed and mastered and paid for and stuff like that, I never wanted to hear it again. So I’d just as soon we don’t do that.”