Up From Way Down, Denver’s Delta Sonics Put Soulful Blues on High

by Nick Schelke
December 4, 2015

7:35 AM

Denver’s got the blues, and it ain’t no part time gig. On a chilly November evening I stopped by the timeless Skylark Lounge on South Broadway (skylarklounge.com) to check out the Delta Sonics, Colorado’s premiere blues act. They did not disappoint. Averaging 250 shows per year, Wash Park’s own frontman Al Chesis and company give credence to the 10,000 hours of practice theory, displaying a wide range of musical style and craft that shatters the soul and stirs the imagination. From Chicago blues to old school rock ‘n’ roll straight out the swamps of Louisiana, the Delta Sonics implored an eclectic, multigenerational crowd to subconsciously question what city they were actually in. 

In what I was told by Chesis is typical Delta Sonics fashion, there wasn’t a set list, establishing that this trip I was on had no map. In the same gesture, however, the show was not without direction. Chesis, a harmonica slayer and authentic blues man, contends this is all part of the plan. “We try to see what’s working in the moment, see what people are responding to,” Chesis said. “The secret of blues, you know, is make every song sound different every time.” Indeed. 

After opening with an anything-but-standard blues ripper which featured an extended harmonica solo over the tight rhythmic groove of bassist John Butler and the phenomenal fillings of drummer Tony Pantellis, the Delta Sonics moved through three hours of original songs while also featuring covers by greats like T-Bone Walker and Bo Diddley. Whether original or cover, all songs were anchored by lead guitarist extraordinaire Bob Pellegrino, who made his dirty work with the slide look easy. When not trading licks with Chesis’ harmonica, Pellegrino’s guitar was at times simply chilling and made the avid blues fans in attendance question whether or not he was channeling the ghost of Stevie Ray Vaughn. The presence lingered into the early morning hours. 

The highlight of the evening, though, was Al Chesis himself who engaged in a style of performance showmanship rarely seen these days: one moment he was soloing clean rips on the harp as he moved through the crowd, the next he was hopping up on tables or laying out flat on the giant square bar. All the while, Chesis lead the band through an extended jam featuring a classic “Low Rider” tease which got the crowd dancing and cheering. All appeared to be business as usual for Denver’s hardest-working blues band.

Though well known in some circles, the Delta Sonics just may yet be the city’s best-kept secret. In a genre that’s hardly heard in this part of the country, this four-piece show pulls no punches and regularly creates a magic that most bands have a hard time finding. With a rigorous touring schedule in place and sometimes playing multiple shows a night, they’re not a hard band to check out. 
Denver: hundreds of days of sunshine, hundreds of nights of blues.

by Nick Schelke

December 4, 2015
7:35 AM

Robert Cray at the Boulder Theater

Robert Cray at the Boulder Theater 
Written by Kalene McCort for The Grateful Web
June 30 2009

On Sunday, the Boulder Theater simmered with genuine blues bravado, the kind that clings to the air with an intoxicating presence. The source of this beautifully hazy down-home sound came in the form of guitarist and vocalist Robert Cray. This velvet-voiced musician has earned the approval and praise of Eric Clapton, Diana Ross and Tina Turner— and after experiencing his emotion-evoking gig, it was ever so evident why.

Before Cray took to the stage, attendees were treated to the sounds of Denver’s own Delta Sonics. Producing a mixture of blues, jazz, swing and all around juke-joint jamability, these skilled musicians set the mood. Al Chesis’ harmonica playing was reminiscent of Little Walter, while his blue suit was akin to the threads of Little Richard.

After a swing-heavy opener, the Delta Sonics jumped into Sonny Boy Williamson’s classic, ‘Red Hot Kisses.’

The Delta Sonics pushed musical collaboration to the next level. The local group’s set came equipped with on-stage jumping, shoe-shuffling and the overall spicy showmanship of yesteryear.

Full Review

The Consummate Blues Band

by Chick Caveallero

Al Chesis is the classic band leader and front man.  He has a great blues voice and adds a lot of high-energy foot stomping and jumping but it's his harmonica playing that makes you stand up and take notice.  Al is amazing!  He plays the meanest blues harp and takes a backseat to no one when it comes to "blowing his face off."

Westword June 2009- Delta Sonics Never Enough

On Never Enough, Margolin and the Sonics collaborate on four cuts, and local blues pianist Ralph Dafermo joins in on three others. Esteemed guests aside, the core unit sounds as rock-solid as ever here, with singer Al Chesis offering some killer harmonica and guitarist Erik Boa tearing it up throughout. And with bassist John Butler and drummer Willie Panker rounding out the lineup, it's hard to get enough of Never Enough.   Jon Solomon- Westword.

Outlook on the Blues