Joel Da Silva on the Midnight Howl, Hep Cat Boo Daddies and Going "Balls to the Wall"
Joel Da Silva is keeping the blues alive and fresh in the South Florida sonic sea. The vibrant guitarist composer, teacher, and booker at Vintage Tap, Delray Beach, currently heads up Joel Da Silva and the Midnight Howl. The band's 2014 release Durty Howlin' Blues helped him continue to solidify his reputation as a solo artist and distinguish his current project from his previous group, the Hep Cat Boo Daddies.
He'll pay tribute to his late HCBD bandmate, bassist Sean "Evil" Gerovitz, and join former drummer Randy Blitz along with current Howl bassist Bob Cleary onstage at the fourth Button South Class Reunion at Revolution Live on September 26
New Times caught up with the blues man recently.
New Times: What is your earliest musical memory?
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Joel Da Silva: My mom Lidia singing for my older brother Lionel at one of his birthday parties back in Chicago. My mother and biological father, Alciebeiades, used to tour South America, she used to sing and he used to play guitar and sing, like a Brazilian type of blues.
When did you start playing guitar?
I was probably around 16 or 17. My brother used to tinker with guitar, and that's how I really got started.
So your relationship was not unlike one of your heroes Stevie Ray Vaughan and older brother Jimmie Vaughan, where the elder brother influenced the younger to get started on guitar and most would agree the youngest surpassed the oldest.
How did Joel Da Silva & the Midnight Howl come together?
Though I was still in the Hep Cat Boo Daddies at the time, I was making a solo record and promised to our manager at the time, the late Don Cohen (former drummer and founder of the Musicians Exchange nightclub and the Fort Lauderdale Riverwalk Blues & Music Festival), that I would play and tour this style of music and do it solo. So that's what I did, and that's what I'm doing even now.
What was your favorite part about making Durty Howlin' Blues?
Laying down the guitar parts -- that's the fun part -- I don't have to think, I just do what comes naturally to me. I also enjoyed working on the songs with the band, writing the lyrics to it and laying down the vocal parts. DHB is the second recording from JDMH. The first is the self-titled release from 2011 which features a recording of my dad's guitar playing in front of a song and then at the end. The song is a slow blues called "Heart of My Father."
This is similar to how Natalie Cole integrated parts of her father Nat King Cole's song "Unforgettable" into a remake.
What are your plans for the rest of 2014 and 2015?
Well, I'm a full-time musician now. My whole life, I've held down a day job while playing music and touring and everything. So now I'm going to try my best to just do music full-time, whether it's doing solo gigs, duo gigs, and band gigs. I also plan to continue to teach guitar locally and book bands at the Vintage Tap in Delray, where I also mop and clean up sometimes and help bands unload and stuff, similar to what I used to do at the Back Room in the early '90s. I really want to see the owner Ryan do well. He's a real nice cat and has helped me in this endeavor of mine (doing music full-time).
I recently went on a tour to Canada and back, we played the Montreal Blues Festival -- an amazing show for 3,000 people. Our next step is to continue to write, which is a slow but good process, keep gigging, and probably do another tour in a couple of months. We are looking to probably travel to Mississippi, Alabama, New Orleans, along those lines. We're currently looking for international booking representation. We are also planning on working on a video soon.
How did you get your start in the South Florida music scene?
I was born in Rockford, IL, which is a little ways north of Chicago, to which we moved after my biological father passed away when I was three. We next moved to Florida in my late teens. My older brother got a job in a blues bar called the Back Room in Delray Beach, and I would go there sometime because all these blues and rock bands would come to town. I wound up getting a job as a bar back, picking up the artists from the airport, bringing them food or help them set up and or pack up -- like a roadie, basically (laughs).
The owner, John was gracious enough to let me hang there and just soak up the talent there and while the bands would play, I would sometimes play with them in the back where nobody could hear me. When they would set them up, I would ask them how they would do this or that and they would show me firsthand. So, cats like Junior Wells gave me a harmonica, Buddy Guy showed me a couple of things, Smokin' Joe Kubeck from Texas -- all these touring bands would show me stuff on the guitar.
This is before YouTube, before iPhone, before all that stuff, so I would learn firsthand from the guys that would come to town. The first band I was in was called Junior Drinkwater and the Thirstquenchers -- he was an old boxer from back in the day. Then I was in the Regulators with Doctor Lee, like a jump blues/swing band. The bass player for a band called the Underbellys, his brother saw me play in the Regulators at the Poorhouse, and soon after they reached out to me to replace their guitar player, who had recently quit.
I joined the Underbellies, who were like a psycho-billy band that consisted of Sean Gerovitz, Randy Blitz, Steve Gibb, and Billy McKelvy. We were signed to a deal with Columbia Records and we actually got to write with Pat DiNizio from the Smithereens. Unfortunately, that fell through. I thought I was going to make it. I was like 21 or 22. After that, I had no band and was looking for something to do and eventually talked Sean and Randy into forming our own band. The owner of the Poorhouse started to let us play every Monday, so from this residency and in taking the name from an old song, that's how the Hep Cat Boo Daddies were born.
What is the main difference between being in the HCBD and being a solo act?
There's not much difference, really. The styles are a little bit different, but I know I've grown musically since then. It's in the same realm.
What are your favorite memories of Sean Gerovitz?
Sean "Evil" Gerovitz was a very gracious person, was always nice, doing things like getting people little gifts and expecting nothing in return. He had a good sense of humor and his laugh was infectious. He stood a certain way on stage -- like a falcon -- and was a very rock 'n' roll guy. When I think of rock 'n' roll, I think of him. He was really cool. It's hard to talk about him.
When I found out he passed -- I'll never forget it -- I was at a gig at the Funky Buddha, it was a packed house. I just felt something was weird that night, something wasn't right. I got a text from my wife, saying that she was going to come see me at the gig. Something just felt different that day and night. Before she came out, we did a set and did a couple of HCBD songs, but something just did not feel right. So we took a break and she took me outside and told me. I just couldn't believe it... I couldn't understand and still don't. That was and still is hard to accept.
I know when his mom passed, I made an effort to give him a call and we did keep in touch. One of the last things he told me was we should get together, he, Kristina, my wife, and myself to have some lunch. A day doesn't go by that I don't think of him. I wish I could call him and ask him if I'm doing the right thing.
How would you describe him, his style of playing and performing and what he meant to HCBD?
Sean was part of the tribe. He meant a whole lot to that band, was a very solid bass player, a very ballsy bass player. He was the true embodiment of rock 'n' roll.
Darlene Delano from Long Distance Entertainment has been putting the Button South Reunion on for several years now and I feel honored that she included us to perform to pay tribute to our brother Sean on Friday, September 26 at Revolution. He was a huge part of the Button South. The Underbellys, which at the time consisted of Billy Velvet, Steve Gibb, Joel DaSilva, Randy Blitz, and Sean performed there several times as well as opening for bands like Jason Bonham and others. HCBD would not be HCBD if it wasn't for him. He showed me a lot in the ways of music and rock 'n' roll. I'll never forget it nor him.
What are your thoughts on playing HCBD music again?
I currently still play some of the HCBD music with the Midnight Howl. It was great music and I really loved playing it -- balls to the wall, crank it up. We had a lot of fans that just loved to see the band. It's going to be good to see Randy. We haven't seen each other in a long time, even though I talk to him still on the phone. It's gonna be fun, it's gonna be a good night.
We're doing the HCBD reunion on Friday and the whole Button South Class Reunion, but the Midnight Howl is playing next door at Stache on Saturday, September 27. It's kind of funny that I'm playing the Hep Cat reunion Friday, then with my current project the very next night. There will be a tribute video for Sean and I believe and a video of the other acts performing all weekend long.
I wear my heart on my sleeve and maybe that hurts me in things. Who knows? Also, not sure where I'm going, but just want to do music for a living. It's all I've ever wanted to do, like my heroes.
The music industry has changed so much and it's very different now. BUT, I'm gonna keep chooglin' away. Why? Because it's what I believe God put me on this Earth to do: Play and be music for people and hope they'll listen.
It will be an emotional weekend but a good one. I'll crank it up and play and sing like it's my last night on earth. Maybe someone will hear me (laughs). It just goes to show you that rock 'n' roll is not dead, it's here to stay. So light a candle, then head over to Revolution Friday and rock out!
Button South Class Reunion 4, 8 p.m., September 26, at Revolution Live in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $12 one day or $20 for two-night admission. Call 954-449-1025, or visit jointherevolution.net.
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