Todd Wolfe is not a household name, except maybe at his house. He’s never sold a million records under his own name, but he’s played on a few million sellers by others including old band mate Sheryl Crow. He’s opened shows for his musical heroes and he’s shared the stage with some as well. He plays the blues, but he likes to rock out. If this was 1972 he’d probably be mentioned in the same breath as many of his heroes like Leslie West and Eric Clapton. His writing and playing are imaginative, dynamic, and underrated. In an age of iPods, BitTorrents, Kimyes, Lady Ga Gas, and radio goo-goos, Todd Wolfe has gone largely un-noticed by the masses. Maybe that’s a good thing. Todd Wolfe continues to put out honest, heartfelt roots and blues music on his own terms. He works hard, traveling the world with his band to spread his self-described “Bluesadelic” musical vision.
Like all blues related music, Todd’s often gives a nod to the past. The overall sound of the band is reminiscent of Cream, Mountain, Rory Gallagher, and even the Son Seals Blues Band of the mid to late 70’s. Todd’s sound is raw, energetic, and pure. His vocals are gritty, gutsy, and occasionally gruff. His lyrics draw on his life experiences and his innate sense of song-craft makes every tune memorable. He is adept at slide guitar, and is as comfortable with only an acoustic guitar as he is at maximum volume fronting his powerhouse band featuring Justine Gardner on bass and Roger Voss on drums.
Last week we had the opportunity to catch Todd Wolfe Band in the initial phase of their tour celebrating the release of their phenomenal new album Long Road Back. The show was presented by 2nd Story Blues Alliance, an organization supporting Blues and musicians in the Lehigh Valley region of eastern Pennsylvania. 2nd Story brings in national blues acts to the Epic Center in Fountain Hill, PA right next door to Bethlehem. Todd Wolfe was a long time fixture of the Lehigh Valley and the local audience was enthusiastic. Todd brought along Hammond B3 and all around keyboard wizard John Ginty, who played on and co-produced Long Road Back, plus local favorite Sarah Ayers to sing on a pair of tunes. The result was two sets of incredibly dynamic music featuring jams that pressed to the edge of the cliff and almost fell off. It was wonderful to hear and mesmerizing to watch.
Armed with a handful of guitars and a single Marshall amp, Todd immediately proved his mastery of classic riff creation leading the band through several new tracks from the new album Long Road Back. The music covered a lot of stylistic ground and John Ginty on keyboard made this formidable trio an even more powerful quartet. One of my favorite moments was the performance of the atmospheric album closer “Hoodoo River.” When I first heard this song, I thought it was missing something but I liked it anyway. The missing piece must have been my fault because it has since become one of my favorite Todd Wolfe Band tunes. It is an instrumental track wherein the second theme never seems to resolve and I have come to believe that is exactly the point of it. The keyboard and guitar jams made this tune levitate and Voss and Gardner formed a well-oiled groove machine. It was perfectly unresolved and exquisitely performed.
Justine Gardner and Roger Voss play telepathically and the petite Gardner makes a rumble exponentially bigger than the figure she cuts. The whole band gets deep into the music and plays toward each other much of the time. You definitely get a bird’s eye view as these talented musicians create music on the fly that they want to make, and would be making whether you were there or not. It is honest and in the moment. Their energy draws you in and the quality of the songs keeps you there. Whether it’s “Miles To Go” or “Day By Day” from the last album, or a new rocker like “One Shot,” the brisk stomp of “Sunnyvale,” the Fusion-Blues of Ginty’s “Peanut Butter,” a primal and thunderous re-imagining of Stephen Stills’ “Black Queen,” or the maximum R&B of Sarah Ayers singing “Mercy” the band went from highlight to highlight. If you miss Todd Wolfe Band live you’re missing some of the best musicians out there making music with integrity and imagination every time they take the stage.
For more pictures from the show, check out our Facebook page.
Just in case you aren’t familiar with Todd’s work, I put together a Todd Wolfe Primer playlist. Remember, Spotify is great to find new music but the artists get very little from any streaming service. If you enjoy what you hear, buy the CD or digital album. Supporting the artists is the only way to ensure you get to hear more from them in the future.