Picture, if you will, a man in Los Angeles’ Ocean Way Studio, his fingers dancing across a piano as the smooth melody of guitar, saxophones, bass clarinets and relaxed drums fill the room with the recognizable music that is the blues. The man behind the piano belts into the microphone, delivering a message about a pimp named Stagger Lee who murders Billy Lyons. This man is none other than the former Dr. House.
I know, I know, it surprised me too. I heard through Facebook that the famed Hugh Laurie played the blues and I had to check it out. Before long, I knew almost all the words to Stagger Lee and was swinging along with the Louisiana blues-style music.
Whatever fame Laurie carried in with him as Dr. House was immediately replaced with the fame of being an amazing musician. His piano style is relaxed and he throws in accents and trills that keeps the music fresh and new. Laurie is accompanied by phenomenal musicians as well (whose names are apparently impossible to find).
Their drummer’s playing is relaxed and fluid and carries the songs along with smoothly transitioned fills and beats that keep the entire band swingin’. He’s crafty in that he drapes what appears to be pieces of felt or leather on some of his drums to get more of a “thud” sound instead of a sharper crack that most are used to. He also, for certain songs, switches out his drum sticks for what appear to be maracas to add another layer to the music.
The lead guitarist throws in short snippets of freestyle leads that add a certain bluesy flavor to the music (aside from the key they play in, of course). The rhythm guitarist has a calm and casual style that blends nicely with the other musicians.
The bass player—who plays a standup bass—keeps the music flowing with deep, moving bass lines that propel the music forward. He’s able to switch between playing with a bow, giving the bass lines are more droning effect, to strumming the strings, giving the music a punchier sound.
Of course, without these essential players (most importantly the bass and drums), the band wouldn’t be able to function. However, the woodwind players are what really stand out to me. They are both capable of playing multiple instruments including the alto sax, tenor sax, bass clarinet, baritone sax and probably many more. At one point in “Stagger Lee,” the tenor sax player switches between his tenor sax to play the background droning notes along with his amazing solos, and also switches to an alto sax to fill in the music with sharper, higher-pitched fills that only benefit the music.
Overall, Hugh Laurie and the Copper Bottom Band impressed me immensely. Their style and musicianship are unlike anything I’ve heard in quite some time. They play well together, and it’s clear through their songs that playing music is what they really care about. Their sound is true to the blues sound that many know and love with a dash of personal style. It’s definitely something I plan to keep up on, and I recommend you do the same.
Written by: Chris Stocking