An Appreciation of the Numbers Band in Their 49th Year

Wed 3/27 @ 7PM

Fri 3/29 @ 8PM

Unbelievable. The band 15 60 75 (the Numbers Band), led by Bob Kidney, has been playing together as a band for 49 years. Damn. What Bob had to say about it at the Music Box Supper Club a few weeks ago is that he’s grateful, glad he can still play music and that people still come to see the band play and buy CDs. They’re a local band, supported by us. And you can tell they still love what they’re doing.

In the late ’70s and into the ’80s, the Numbers Band played at JB’s on Saturday nights, and it was standing room only. I remember trying to hear the band over all the talking, trying to see through the smoke, but giving up and dancing to the Numbers Band’s blues sounds. JB’s could be loud. Some people felt the smooth blues and deep voices of band members, who included Bob, brother Jack, Gerald Casale (co-founder of Devo), drummer David Robinson and Michael Stacey were background to their flirtations as they danced.   We stood towards the middle of the club, watching the bass player’s fingers expertly pick out the notes that spoke of the Deep South, the cradle of blues.

More recently, the band played the Parkside near Detroit and W. 58th Street, which serves up trays of burgers and good beer on tap to patrons ensconced in dark wooden booths carved with initials. Whenever we could, we drove down to the Parkside to witness Bob Kidney on hip-man intentional vocals and lead guitar expertly and confidently lead the band with energy while wearing a dark suit, and nodding his head. The music is relentless, energetic, unhesitating and powerful. Jack Kidney plays an unbelievable harmonica, and we witnessed him switch to keyboards to guitar to vocals and then back to another dizzyingly wonderful harp solo. Terry Hynde (Chrissie Hynde’s brother) serenaded the sax, and made it squeal deliciously. The bass player put down his electric bass and bobbed away on a upright bass between his legs.

It was standing room only when the Numbers Band played the Venice Cafe during Kent’s summer festival last year. They still commanded a crowd at the Music Box where they performed a beautiful rendition of “Rosalie,” and their themes of love, growing older, and authenticity ring true.

Yes, they play a distant Bo Diddley and heartfelt Robert Johnson. But they play renditions that are almost unrecognizable until you hear the lyrics. The music cuts through the room with feverish blues and explodes into euphoric frenzy. When Terry and Jack play the sax together, there was a whole lot of music and entertaining going on, and unlike some jam bands, the Dead included, there was no lull. But was this the blues? I heard some jazz and rock — the band has its own spiraling but controlled music with an angry undertone.

Indeed, there is the anger. But think about growing up in the 1960s, about the war into which young man were drafted, about how people were treated, about the division in the country, and how things have not changed much today. Sure, there’s no draft, but many of the young men who go into the military have no choice. Minorities are still mistreated. And we’ve never had such division, such untruth, such an undercutting to our democracy as we’re experiencing right now. Bob says people ask him if he’s as mean as he looks; he doesn’t answer that question, which leaves us wondering, but I think it’s his stage persona.

Bob was once quoted in Creem Magazine, saying, “We are not interested in making hits, we are interested in making history.” The band’s history began with Robert being asked to join the band Pig Iron. Kidney changed the name of the band to 15 60 75, the sequence of numbers in “The Blues Fell This Morning,” written by Paul Oliver. Terry discovered that 15 divided by 15 is 1, 60 divided by 15 is 4, and 75 by 15 is 5, and 1, 4 and 5 are referred to as universal progression. The original band included Tim Maglione, who died in 2003.

Apparently, the Numbers Band has never stopped since 1969. Their album Jimmy Bell’s Still in Town was a 2004 reissue of a 1975 live set that was performed while opening for Bob Marley in Cleveland. It was well received by New York Times and Village Voice critics.   Sean Campannella said, in The Eugene Weekly of May 20, 2004, “Jimmy Bell’s Still In Town is urban Kidney’s gritty yet abstract expression of street-lit vitality and finger-snapping determination.”

The band has never catered to cultural dictates — they were playing blues when the records that sold the most were Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. “I refuse to be product of this culture. I will not allow my heart and soul to be bought and sold in the marketplace. I will remain a voice of obscurity, riling against the vast grayness created by the tellusourvision.” Yes, but no. I suspect the band likes the attention it gets when it’s performing on stage, and they do want to sell their CD’s.

Okay, maybe not all of Kidney’s fans feel that way. He says Americans are leading frantically stressful lives trying to keep up with their neighbors and spending beyond their means and do not want to be asked questions, only to be entertained. Yes, many Americans are like that, but many are realizing the soullessness of their quest and are looking for artists to tell the truth and tell it real. They’re looking for bands like 15 60 75 to tell it like it is.

If you don’t know the music, listen in at numbersband.com/, where you’ll also find the band’s upcoming schedule. They’ll be at the Water Street Tavern in Kent on Wed 3/27 and at the G.A.R. Hall in Peninsula on Fri 3/29.

[Written by Claudia Taller]

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