Some might call Quinn DeVeaux’s music retro R&B, but ultra-retro is more like it.
Born 36 years ago in Gary, Indiana, and based in the East Bay for the past dozen years, the singing guitarist delivers seven rhythm-and-blues songs from the 1950s and ‘60s, plus a couple church songs of earlier origin, on his 2011 CD “Under Covers” with fervent feeling and authenticity that are uncanny for someone of his generation.
The pliancy of and passion in his gritty low-tenor pipes bring early Ray Charles to mind on nearly every number, including oldies by Sam Cooke, Snooks Eglin, Chris Kenner and an especially vibrant treatment of Charles’ shout-tempo-driven “Leave My Woman Alone.” Even his version of Muddy Waters’ “Tiger in Your Tank” betrays the mark of Charles, except when he pronounces the name of the beast in the title more as Waters had – “tie-go.”
He also tackles Fats Domino’s “I’m in Love Again” and the Meters’ “They All Ask’d for You,” on which he localizes the humorous original lyrics with references to the Oakland Zoo and the San Francisco Bay.
DeVeaux came to the blues through the back door, so to speak, 12 years ago after seeing “The Doors,” a 1991 Oliver Stone film about the late ‘60s rock band that featured vocalist Jim Morrison. Besides such original songs as “Light My Fire” and “The End,” the group was famous for its show-stopping rendition of the Howlin’ Wolf blues classic “Back Door Man.”
“I tried to figure out where the Doors got their sound from,” says DeVeaux, who will appear with his band, the Blue Beat Review, on Friday, Nov. 23, at The Independent at 628 Divisadero St. in San Francisco. “I traced the line back. I read some interviews, and they kept talking about different guys, one of them being Muddy Waters.
“I bought this big old blues compilation. It was maybe nine or 12 CDs. It was a lot of music. I narrowed it down to one or two of the CDs that I really liked. It was more the Mississippi stuff like Muddy and John Lee Hooker and Son House.
“Once I heard Muddy Waters, things kinds fell in place for me. I started playing slide guitar and just picking up things here and there. I don’t play slide much anymore, but I’m looking to bring that back on our next record.”
The remarkably versatile South Berkeley resident and his band, which includes a Raeletts-styled female vocal group called the Quinntettes, are currently working on an album of DeVeaux’s original R&B songs. He also has a recent CD of duets with Ethiopian-born, San Francisco-based jazz vocalist Meklit Hadero.
It’s made up mostly of radically rearranged renditions of rock songs by the likes of Arcade Fire, MGMT, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Talking Heads, but their version of Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made to Love Her” and a gorgeously harmonized a cappella reading of Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me” should find favor with soul music fans.